Author: Tenhawk

Title: Road Trip : Solo

Copyright: January 2001

Rating: PG

Keywords: Buffy/ Highlander/Charmed/Nightman/Nash Bridges/Kindred/Angel

Summary : After Christmas '98 Xander makes a little delivery run to the friends and allies of Section Seven... and manages to get himself into as much trouble as ever could on the Hellmouth.

Legalese: All characters except those noted below with their respective rights, properties and copyrights are the property of their respective creators, authors, owners, producers and agencies. These characters are used without permission. No copyright infringement is intended or meant, and no money will be made from this story. This story may be copied in its entirety, and may be distributed as long as all copyright information remains.

Highlander: All rights and properties belong to Rysher Entertainment.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: All rights and properties belong to Joss Whedon, Fox Studios and Mutant Enemy, etc.
GI Joe and the Shadowclan: All rights and properties belong to Marvel Comics and Hasbro Toys
Nightman : All rights and properties belong to Marvel Comics.
Nash Bridges : Nash Bridges, its characters and situations are the creative and intellectual property of The Don Johnson Company, The Netshow and CBS.
Kindred the Embraced: All creative rights are the current property of Spelling entertainment and White Wolf Games.

Here are the changes from normal shows that may play a part in this story:

Buffy :
Xander has been empowered by Robin Goodfellow to be a mystically enhanced warrior. The empowerment also allows him to recall considerably more of the Soldier Boy memories from his Halloween possession.

The character Steven St. Wolf is property of Steve Pantovich, as is the universe in which this story takes place. Steve can be contacted at steve711@concentric.net


Road Trip: Solo

Sunnydale
26 December, 1998 - 04:00 PST

Xander Harris whistled to himself as he passed Sunnydale town limits, letting the van's powerful engine out to play. It was ironic that here, in the town he and his friends had pulled from the brink of destruction a dozen times and more, was the one place in the entire state where he had to lay low. The local cops, Det. Stein in particular, where looking for any reason to haul him and his friends to prison. <Like Steve would let that happen.> Xander grinned for a moment, he pitied any cops who tried... but even so, it didn't pay to buy unnecessary trouble.

//Do you really have to go so fast, the blurs make me sick.//

Xander's head snapped over to the small cat who was looking out the passenger window.

"Don't look out the side window, look ahead. and take some deep breathes Patches." <God, don't upchuck in here. It's a long way to L.A. and we're on the freeway now.>

The cat seemed to grin at him, //You didn't have to ask me along Xander.//

Xander's smile dropped for a brief moment, <Yeah well, Christmas with my dad isn't something I'd wish on anyone. Everyone deserves a break, and I got the others to cover my family for a couple days.>

//It's always good to stretch ones tail Xander, thanks for the diversion.//

"No worries Patches. Enjoy the ride, I need to stretch my own 'tail' for a bit. Yesterday was fun, but last night at home was *not*."

There was no response from the patchwork cat, he'd never admit it but he loved his charge. He was, however, reserving judgement when it came to the family. He had already spent a fair fraction of his time dodging various directed and undirected kicks from Xander's father. How could he be expected to protect the house if that damned man wouldn't let him out of Xander's room?

Xander, noticing the smart ass cat's quiet moment, forced an evil grin. "Come on Patches, get in the spirit! Road Trip!"

//Yeah!!// Once again Xander was struck by the eerie impression of a grin on a cats face. //A guys only trip huh?//

Xander's grin was no longer forced, "Right on, kitty cat. Right on."

//It would be better if Cordelia and Ariel had come along.//

Xander chuckled, "Cordy has some family time scheduled for the next few days. She had to compromise with her dad to score Christmas and New years for us."

//Yeah but I miss the free entertainment when you two are together.// The cat replied in a decidedly snarky tone.

"Hey!"

*****

They had barely been on the freeway for ten minutes when Xander noticed a white police interceptor in his rearview, closing fast.

"Right on time."

The fast car pulled abreast of the van and the cop in the passenger seat smiled up at Xander and threw him a fast salute as the mustang pulled ahead. In front of the van the police car accelerated away.

<Not for long.> Xander grinned and put the pedal down, letting the big engine out even more.

The police interceptor accelerated faster then the van could, pulling away until the tail lights were all Xander could see in the distance. Xander grinned, the cop must have wanted to take advantage of the lack of traffic on the freeway, a game that was fine with him. The vans accelerator was flat to the floor now and the cops taillights were growing closer by the second. A glance down told Xander that the van was doing an easy one twenty and climbing before he pulled it back a bit and merely allowed the Van to maintain its current speed. Less then a minute later the police interceptor was looming large in front of him and he let off the gas long enough to match speed with the sports car. <Man, do I love the toys that Steve lets us play with.>

In the passenger seat Patches was looking peculiarly flushed for someone covered in fur. //Yeah! lets show this joker what we can really do!//

Xander laughed, <I thought you were sick.>

//Feel better now.//

Xander chuckled as he reached down for a radio ear-piece, <not right now. Business first.>

"Santa's Sleigh to unit four oh one. that the best you can do?" Xander taunted mildly, a grin evident even in his voice. <ok, so I mix business and pleasure. Sue me.>

//Nah, lawyers give me a rash.//

"Wise ass." Xander somehow managed to keep his face straight, but his voice was filled with fondness for the feline.

The radio crackled a second later, echoing laughter from the police ahead. "Santa's Sleigh? Aren't you a day late?"

"What can I say, first I deliver the toys to the good little girls and boys... THEN you jokers get your chunks of coal."

The radio crackled again with laughter, Xander let it go on for a moment before breaking in again. "So, tell me now, why are you guys riding shotgun for me? We got your message about the escort but not why."

The cops voice was a bit grimmer when he came back, "Boys downtown got a call about a drug shipment coming into L.A. from Sunnydale. Yokel by the name of Stein tipped Vice, gave 'em your description, the van, license number, etcetera. When he gave them your name though, one of the uniforms recognized it and told Stein to shove it. Captain thought a little insurance would be wise."

Xander took a deep breath, Stein was becoming a major pain. <Gonna have to look into how he knows so much about us.>

"Roger that Four Oh One. Thanks for the intel, I'll be sure to check up on it when I get back."

"We figured you would."

*****

As L.A. loomed up Xander slowed and called one last goodbye to his escort as he pulled off the freeway and took an exit into the city. It had been a few weeks since his last patrol in the city of angels, and Xander grinned to himself as he was momentarily pleased to see the city was still intact. <I have got to get that ego under control.>

//Fat chance.//

"Oh shut up."

Xander whistles happily to himself as he turns the van into Buster's parking lot, noting with pleasure the two SWAT vans waiting for him. Xander moves his van carefully in between the two others and slips her into park, turning the key he hops out and stretches while taking a deep breath.

"Ahhh... been sitting too long," Xander was suddenly wracked by a coughing fit, "damn I hate that smog."

Xander pulled open the sliding door as he noticed a small group of people leave Buster's. Ignoring them for a moment he pulled a long black trench coat from the van and sweeps it over his shoulders. Even in December, L.A. didn't come close to being cool enough to warrant a coat like this but it did hide a multitude of sins. After shrugging his arms into the coat's sleeves he glanced back at the group approaching him.

"Cody, Kelly. Long time. Truce still holding I see?" Xander said as he flashes them a grin.

Cody was the first to respond, "Barely. These jack asses like their practical jokes too much for my taste."

The round of chuckles was punctuated by Xander's snort, "Keep away from Sunnydale then Cody. Compared to some of our team these guys are rank amateurs."

Xander could almost hear the Immortal members of the Zombies snap to attention as a gleam in their eyes bespoke of a challenge offered and accepted. <Hmmmm, this may have some possibilities. Nahhh, Shaw'd kill me if I involved outsiders.>

Kelly looked Xander over for a moment, and grinned. "Nice coat kid. Step up from what you were wearing last time I saw ya."

Xander glanced down and the long black coat and reddened slightly, "It's a gift from my boss. But I think our girlfriends had a hand in it, they seem hell bent to 'fix' my fashion sense. I just thank god that Steve has a practical mind."

The officers glanced at each other, slightly bemused by Xander's statement. Before they can ask Xander moved back to the van.

"Back to business for a moment shall we?" Xander reached into the Van and pulled out a small case.

"What have you got for us that requires Section Seven to pay a personal visit?"

Xander smiles and unsnapped the case and opened it for inspection. Inside are four metal flasks nestled into foam packing material.

Cody is the first to speak, "What is it?"

"Healing droughts." Xander's face hardens at the sudden grins around him, "Before you get too excited understand this, these things don't grow on trees. Do NOT waste them. If you can get your man to the hospital then DO SO. These are particularly expensive and time consuming to make, and while we've got the cash the only people we have in this league are normally too busy on the front lines to cackle around a cauldron, if you know what I mean."

Most of the men look at each other with only partial comprehension but the two SWAT leaders glance at each other and back at Xander before nodding, "We understand."

"Good. Then I impart you this gift from Section Seven, use it well." Xander grinned again as he handed the case over to Kelly.

"Thanks kid. How come your up here over the holidays anyway?"

Xander shrugged, "Had some free time, decided to save someone else the trip. My girl has a family deal going," He paused, and smiled, "necessary evil. She spends family time for the next couple days and we get Christmas and New years." Kelly and the Zombies grinned, "You got both days? She loves ya pal."

Xander grinned and nodded happily.

"Care to come in for a coffee, kid?" Cody motioned to Buster's behind him.

"Sure, I've got a long day ahead of me. Could use a little wake up juice."

Before turning to leave Xander looks back into the van, "Care to stretch your legs a bit kitty cat?"

To the astonished and amused looks of the SWAT team members a small patchwork cat daintily hopped out of the van, gave each of them a long condescending look before walking around the van.

"What the hell was that?"

Xander looked over at the SWAT members and shrugged. "Bodyguard."

The group stared at him for a long moment before they apparently decided to accept that at face value and began to turn towards Buster's Bar and Grill.

//Xander! Twelve freaks coming in... they don't smell right.//

Xander stopped and turned around, causing the SWAT members to pause as well and look at him with curiosity. Xander ignored them and pulled a small monocular scope from his pocket. Putting it to his eyes he checked out the crew moving down the street like they owned it. //You called it Patches, Vamps.//

Xander turned back to the Swat crew behind him, "Twelve Vamps coming up the street guys. What are you packing?"

By way of answer each of the men pulled their service pistols and ejected the clips to the ground. They reached into their belts and replaced the ejected clips with new ones that Xander noticed were carefully marked with black tape.

"Ready to roll. How did you id 'em as Vamps?"

Xander shrugged, "Pocket infrared scope. Useful for covert stakeouts and anytime you might have to deal with civilians, nice little gadget. I'll show it to you later."

"Right."

The six men moved out of the parking lot and stepped carefully in front of the approaching vampires. As the vampires closed to fifty yards they stopped and stared at the small group of men who were blocking their path.

The Vamps glanced at each other and smiled, "Food."

As the vampires charged the six defenders raised their pistols and opened fire. To depressingly little effect. The vampires didn't even stagger as the wooden bullets unerringly found the center of their chests.

It was Cody who first realized what was happening, "Damn! They're wearing vests!"

It was Xander's turn to curse at that revelation as his Glock 19 clicked dry. "Then we go up close and personal."

The three immortals behind him nodded, pulling their swords from beneath their coats, but the two mortals behind him look at each other in worry. Xander pulled two more pistols from under his trench coat and tossed them casually over shoulder as he started to go into action, "Here, Catch! Head shots only people. Double tap 'em!"

The two mortal cops caught the pistols awkwardly as Xander and the three immortals surged forward towards the vampires. Xander reached behind his back and grasped the pommel of his sword, Deathstalker. A quick twist and the snaps that held it in place came loose and Xander slid the blade smoothly from its sheath. Behind the charging group the two mortal SWAT officers quickly spread apart, angling for shots that wouldn't endanger their comrades.

*****

Kelly, Sanchez, and Ricker were hot on Xander's heels as the four swordsmen charged the vampire gang.

<Damn this kid is faster then I remember.> Kelly watched as the flamberge blade swept into sight. <Shit. Wonder if he knows how to use that thing?>

As the two groups converged on each other Xander and the others could hear the distinctive report of the two Glock pistols behind them. Xander grinned as the first double pop heralded one of the vamps disintegrating into dust. <Good shooting guys.>

A low growl sounded from behind the charging warriors causing Xander to grin. <Nice of you to join the fun.>

//Hey, a change is as good as a vacation.//

"Wise ass."

The huge saber tooth tiger flew past them into the group of suddenly terrified vampires, causing the three immortals charging to pause with a shocked expression on their faces.

Xander felt the sudden pause in the charge behind him and glanced back with a grin, "I told you he was a bodyguard!"

A second later Xander was too occupied with the Vampires to give his comrades reactions a second thought.

*****

<Teamwork, professional, quick, lethal.> The man in black was standing high on the roof of a building across the street from the fight. He watched as the first three vamps were dusted by pistol fire. The four charging warriors were his main focus, however, especially the young boy leading them.

<He's fast. That's going to change the plan.> A moment later a slight hint of motion in his spyglasses attracted his attention. <What is that? a cat? What in the hell?>

A moment later the man's binoculars hit the rooftop with a shattering sound as the lens shards sparkled on the long fall to the ground. <A guardian spirit. All the Gods be damned! How in hell did that young pup bond a Guardian Spirit? They're all dead!>

*****

On ground level the vampires were rapidly learning that they had walked into the wrong part of town and were looking desperately for a way out.

"Run!"

The four surviving vamps split and ran, trying desperately to get clear of the four windmill like blades they were faced off against. Another double pop from each side left two Vamps dusted and the remaining two froze in their tracks. Slowly they turned, their game faces on as they tried to intimidate the opposition.

"What do you people want?"

Xander's smile was cold, and a fair site more intimidating then the demonic visage he was facing. "Nothing at all."

With that Xander lunged forward, his kris style blade slicing neatly through the vampire's kevlar vest like a knife through butter. The vampire screamed in pain while the thrice blessed weapon carved his insides as Xander twisted the blade around, quickly withdrew it and slashed it down across the doubled over vampires neck.

The vampire dusted and Xander turned to see the last one try to bolt. A quick sweep of Kelly's sword reduced him to his component atoms.

Kelly stared at Xander for a long moment, taking in the boy's casual stance, as his eyes swept the street looking for stragglers. <Speed, power, and absolutely ruthless. His technique is a little rough though. Still, I don't think I've ever seen a mortal this dangerous.>

Cody and Murphy approached slowly, their pistols trained carefully on the saber tooth tiger now purring contentedly as it rubbed against Xander's legs.

"Relax guys. Patches," Xander looked down, "I think you've scared our friends enough."

//You sure? The look on their faces is funny.// Patches sneezed as he laughed, a deep, throaty, and completely unhumorous sound coming from a saber tooth tiger.

"Patches."

//Oh ok.// A moment later patches was once again a small, harmless, cat brushing against Xander's legs.

As Xander bent and picked up the cat the assembled group looked on in awe.

"I don't want to know." Kelly was shaking his head as the group began to walk back towards Buster's.

Xander grinned, "Good call."

Cody looked down at the pistol in his hands in confusion, "What *I* do want to know is how did we kill those vamps with head shots? I thought that wooden bullets only worked with a heart shot?"

Xander shrugged, "They do. I dutch load my mags with wood and enchanted silver in case I run into a demon. It's not supposed to be necessary for your average vampire hunter, but since I hang out with the Slayer and the Wanderer it's paid off in the past, and no doubt will in the future."

"So that's why you said to double tap them?" Murphy looked on in understanding.

"Yep. Now, lets go get that cup shall we?"

The group nodded as one and walked back to Buster's, leaving a dozen piles of dust blowing in the street behind them.

*****

Buster's Diner, LA
26 December, 1998 - 07:23 PST

"Your kidding right?"

Xander grimaced slightly as he shook his head, "I wish. Nope, this guy was me. But he was a vamp. One of the sickest bad-asses around from what we found out. Real piece of work."

"So you guys really can give a vamp back his soul?" Cody looked a little disturbed.

"Yeah," Xander answered, "but its not something we can do on a large scale. Aside from the fact that disturbing the sleep of the dead isn't high on our list of good ideas, most vamps probably couldn't handle the massive overload of guilt their memories would cause. My alternate damn near killed himself, it was damned lucky he had the strength to fight through it."

The SWAT officers looked at each other for a long moment, a clear message passing back and forth. Each of them were quite certain that luck had little to nothing to do with it. Not if that vamp had been anything like the young man sitting in front of them.

"Man the world is becoming a weirder place by the day ever since July." Kelly was shaking his head as he downed another cup of coffee, "First Vamps and demons, and now this sci-fi shit."

"Tell me about it man. I'm starting to think of my first couple years fighting vampires as the good old days."

The men around the table chuckled with good nature at the idea, life certainly seemed to have gotten more and more tangled as they exposed each new layer of the true world around them.

Xander finally sort of shrugs his shoulders and says, "Guess the job's still the same though. Down 'n dirty with no recognition."

The men eye each other across the table until finally they each smile and speak as one, "Wouldn't have it any other way."

*****

The sun had risen a couple hours earlier and the heat was starting to build when Xander and the SWAT officers arrived at the LAPD training facility.

Cody turned to Xander and grinned, "We've been wanting to get one of you Section Seven kids up here since July."

"Oh really?" Xander was all smiles, he could smell a prank in the wind. These guys really were rank amateurs compared to his friends. <Of course living with a seriously disturbed half-elf and a wise-ass Faery have probably heightened my standards when it comes to this sort of thing.>

<Cool.> Xander looked around the facility, noting what was available to the officers for training. Outside he could see a fairly elaborate obstacle course as well as several sand training pits. Xander was also fairly certain he could hear the tell tale pops of gunfire from outside, so they had a target range on site. <Serious un-surprise.>

Cody guided Xander through the halls, ignoring the occasional stares from various officers as they passed by. Cody grinned, "Sorry kid, but these guys don't generally trust young punks in black trench coats walking through here."

Xander grinned in return, "You should see the reaction Sunnydale. These guys are very friendly in comparison."

"Yeah we heard about that. Your town has the highest 'accident' rate in the country. Probably the world, but records from some third world countries are sketchy," Cody grinned, "We checked. What the hell is wrong in that town?"

"Cops are on the take, near as we can tell. Any honest ones usually wind up dead or buried so deep in the department they never see the light of day, and trust me in Sunnydale that's a *bad* thing. And since the cause of all the 'accidents' are supernatural in nature its pretty tough to establish any chain of evidence against the police." Xander's eyes were slightly downcast as he spoke, "No one wants to hear about a vampire murder when it can be blamed on a street gang on PCP."

His escorts were nodding to themselves, hard and angry looks on their faces when new voice from a side room spoke up.

"Ain't that the truth."

A young dark skinned man walked out of a room, looking at the group with interest. When his eyes fell on Xander he spoke to the SWAT members. "Who's your friend in the spooky coat?"

Cody slipped between them as he spoke up, "Gunn, this is Xander. He's part of Section Seven's core team. Xander, this is Gunn. He's been helping us clear the streets of a few Vampire gang-bangers."

Xander shook his head in disgust, "Gangbangers? What the hell are the vamps coming to anyway?"

Gunn was sizing up Xander with an appraising eye, "This is one of Sec Seven's big bads? Don't look like much."

Xander grinned, the guy was a tough and suddenly he was starting to think that the prank he could smell in the air wasn't aimed at him. Xander turned to Cody and asked, "What's he doing here?"

"We're trying to convince him that some line discipline and intensive training would benefit his crew." Cody looked back to Gunn, "Care to try your hand in a little one on one with Section Seven?"

Gunn hesitated a brief moment, he hadn't met most of the Section Seven team but the ones he did meet were something else. Still, this guy looked like someone he could understand. Just another kid who got caught up in something bigger then he was, and got changed by it.

Xander watched the guy size him up, and almost smiled as he saw the analysis written all over Gunn's face. He thought back to what Amy had to say about the guy. <Strong, tough, more then a little full of himself, but a community leader type. I'll take it easy on him.>

Gunn finally came to a decision, <This guy's just another punk kid.>, "Sounds like fun."

"What do you suggest we start with Cody?" Xander managed to keep his face straight as he spoke.

*****

"The obstacle course?" Xander looked over the course, disappointed.

"Sure, why not?"

"I was hoping for some exercise." Xander deadpanned.

Gunn looked over at the young man with an odd look, "Who is this guy?"

The SWAT officers looked on in amusement, "He's the guy who took down a half dozen vamps this morning with a sword."

Gunn looked at the group with disgust on his face, "Great, another Zorro wannabe."

Xander gave the cops a curious look, "You guys got up close on the last mission I take it?"

Kelly grinned while Cody grimaced, "Damn right. Only way to handle the situation."

Gunn snorted, "Give me those wooden bullets you guys play with any day. Even when we were using stakes we kept looking for a better way to handle things. Flamethrower was the best we could manage."

Xander gave him a look of professional interest, "Flamethrower? What model? One of the old M1 or M2 models I suppose? Or were you able to get one of the foreign jobs?"

Gunn looked between Xander and the SWAT officers with a incredulous look on his face, "Who IS this guy?"

Cody chuckled as he spoke, "They improvised a unit from a blowtorch and some homemade napalm."

Xander laugh out loud as they entered the start area, "Not bad. Not bad at all. Still," he continued curiously, "Why didn't you get some water guns and *borrow* some holy water from the church? It's a little lower key but extremely effective."

Gunn looked stunned for a moment, he jaw working as he tried to speak. Finally he managed to say, "We didn't think of that."

Xander nodded, "Must be the inner city mind. We were a bunch of suburb brats, lethal stuff wasn't high on our minds."

Xander grinned at the look on Gunn's face before he continued, "Mind you, when we did need the stronger stuff we were a bit more creative then you bunch."

Even the SWAT officers looked curious at this so Xander continued, "We once broke into a military storehouse and stole a Strella antitank missile when a particularly nasty demon showed up in town."

Xander broke out laughing at the expressions on the faces around him, "Should of seen the mess we made of the shopping mall the Judge was visiting."

The group followed Xander as he moved up to the start of the course, looking over the facilities with a quick glance. the SWAT officers were looking at each other, wondering if Xander was serious or not. No one spoke until Xander turned back with a grin and continued.

"The Judge never bothered to dodge. You see according to prophecy or something, the Judge couldn't be harmed by weapons forged by man, so he figured he was invulnerable. He only forgot one thing."

Gunn looked at the teen telling him this insane story and could only managed one word. "What?"

Xander grinned again, an evil smile that would have scared everyone present had they thought it was directed at them. "In Buffy's words? That was then, this is now."

The SWAT officers suddenly grinned as they got the joke, but Gunn just kept staring. "Your kidding right? You fired off a rocket in a shopping mall?"

Xander shrugged, "The judge would have annihilated everyone in Sunnydale at least, perhaps the planet if he had his way. We would be quieter about the operation if it happened now, but at the time brute force seemed called for."

*****

Xander stretched a couple times as he watched Gunn strip off his excess clothing in preparation for the course. When the young man was finished Xander looked at him appraisingly and asked, "You ready?"

Gunn looked at him in disbelief, "Your going to wear *that*?"

Xander looked down at the long coat he was wearing for a moment, weighing the options in his mind. "Nope your right. This isn't quite right."

Gunn looked vindicated until Xander called out to Kelly, "Hey, you guys got any training packs?"

The Zombie grinned and nodded, "How much you want?"

"Make it a hundred pounds."

Kelly grinned and shook his head as he went off to find the item.

"What the hell are you talking about? A hundred pounds?"

Xander let out a breath and mentally switched to his 'green beret' mode before turning back to Gunn, "Yeah, my load out isn't quite up to mission specs. A hundred pounds should about cover the armor, rifle, machine pistols, knives, grenades, electronics, and ammo I'm missing."

Gunn stared at him for a moment before asking, "What the hell are you talking about?"

Xander looked at Gunn's clothes pointedly, "You hunt vamps dressed like that?"

Gunn looked down at his tee shirt, shorts, and runners before looking back at the kid in front of him. "Hell no."

"Then what's the point of working out like that?"

Gunn stared at Xander for a long moment, trying to respond. Finally Kelly returned with the pack and Xander shrugged it over his shoulders.

"You ready?" He asked Gunn with a crooked grin.

Gunn just shook his head in disbelief as he toed the line across from Xander and waited for the signal. Kelly raised his hand and held it there for a long moment, looking between the two teenagers to make sure they were ready. Finally he dropped his hand in a quick flash and yelled. "Go!"

*****

Gunn was sweating an breathing hard when he finally crossed the finish line, several full minutes behind Xander. He looked around for the teen he had been running against only to find him, still wearing that damned pack, doing pushups on his knuckles.

Gunn stared at him in disbelief, "Jesus man, you have to be as strong as a vamp!"

Xander hopped up, a serious look on his face, "Nope. Vamps are a full order of magnitude stronger then I am. Most of 'em anyway. Luckily most of 'em are pretty soft from years of preying on unsuspecting civilians."

"Soft!" Gunn's voice carried a long distance, distracting people around, "You call them soft?"

"Damn right. You think that you could take a vamp who had serious martial training? How about police or military background? The old Vamps mostly don't know shit about firearms tactics and the new ones who might are usually so drunk on their own power they can't see straight. *Usually*. Be careful, you may run into a hard case someday. If you do," Xander continued with no hint of humor on his face, "be smart. Call for help."

Xander shrugged the pack off his shoulders and walked off with it, leaving Gunn behind with the two SWAT captains.

Cody managed to keep a straight face as he asked, "You think you can get your crew to accept some training?"

Gunn just nodded. He didn't trust himself to speak for the moment.

*****

Xander was dropping the pack off in the supply room when Kelly walked up to him and spoke, "Thanks kid, we've been trying to convince him of the benefits but he's a stubborn one."

"No problem. Anything that keeps another group alive and hunting is worth a little effort." Xander grinned suddenly, "But I don't suppose you want me to tell him that I have a magical edge?"

Kelly grinned back, "I'd rather you left that out, yeah."

Xander laughed, "Ok fine, but when he does find out, *you* better take the bullet for me. At least you'll get back up."

Kelly kept on grinning, "Deal. But if he has a sword your on your own."

*****

The group had reassembled in the lounge area and were dropping stories and tales of woe back and forth, to the occasional amusement of those SWAT officers within earshot.

"Xander, how long are you going to be in town?" Cody asked.

"I have to be in 'Frisco tomorrow morning to meet with the SIU and the Stormshadow's. T'ill then, well, I've got some time on my hands. Why?"

"I was wondering if you'd go out with Gunn's crew tonight, do a patrol of their neighborhood."

Xander looked over Cody's shoulder for a moment, checking with Gunn. The young man nodded, albeit reluctantly and Xander turned his attention back to Cody. "Sure. Sounds like a heck of an evening."

Cody grinned and thanked Xander before he and Kelly took off, leaving the two teens alone.

"Hey Gunn, when and where do you want me to meet you?"

Gunn looked at him for a moment, "Where are you going?"

"Back to my van. If I'm going to patrol with you guys I'm gonna need my sleep. I have an early day tomorrow."

Gunn nodded and thought about it, "Look man, you want a couch? I got room at our digs."

Xander thought about it for a moment, then he nodded. "Alright man, lets go. I'll give you a lift."

*****

"This is your ride?"

Xander looked at the van, then back to Gunn, with a puzzled expression. "What's wrong with it?"

"Nothing man. Its just..." Gunn trailed off for a moment, "I don't know, I expected something more James Bond."

Xander grinned, "I suppose we could manage that, but other then the babe factor what would be the point?"

"The babe factor isn't enough for you?"

"If my girlfriend even thought I was driving something just for the babe factor I wouldn't be in any position to EVER take advantage of that kind of thing again."

Gunn grimaced at the image as he hopped in the passenger seat, only to wind up leaping back out when a screaming fur-ball took a swipe at his ass. "Holy son of a bitch! What the hell is that thing?"

Xander stifled a laugh before studiously looking into the van with a serious expression. "I think it's a cat."

Gunn was furious, "I know it's a god damned cat! what the hell is it doing trying to take a piece out of my ass!"

"Two things Gunn. Number One," Xander held up a finger, "You tried to sit on him, what did you expect? And Two, if he had been trying to take a piece out of your ass you'd still be looking for your cheeks."

//That's telling him Xander. Who is the bozo anyway?//

"Patches, meet Gunn. Gunn, this is Patches," Xander thought about leaving that as it was for a moment but couldn't resist continuing, "my bodyguard."

Gunn stared at the cat, then across the van to Xander. His gazed shifted between the two while his hands checked the seat of his pants for holes, "I believe it."

*****

"Gunn! Man, 'bout time you got back. Those cops still hassling you about us?"

"Naw man, they just looking to help." Gunn looked vaguely uncomfortable, "And I'm... I'm starting to think they're right."

The young man who had greeted Gunn looked shocked, "Are you nuts? we don't need nothing those pigs can give us..."

The kid trailed off as Xander stepped into the old warehouse behind Gunn, taking in his black coat and oddly goofy grin with distrust before turning back to Gunn.

"Who the hell is this punk, Gunn?"

"Chill Pablo. This is Xander, he's one of the Sec Seven dudes who were out of town before. He had some business in town and he's offered help us patrol tonight, maybe see if we can take out a nest if we can find the bastards."

Xander ignored the conversation and meandered into the room, muttering to himself. "barely defensible, too many ways in and out, those windows aren't covered properly. Jesus, this place is the next thing to a death trap. Hey Gunn! You guys have any defenses here?"

"What the hell!? Who do you think you are to ask us about our defenses?" Pablo started cursing at Xander.

Xander ignored him, "Gunn?"

"We've got flame throwers and crossbows rigged on trip wires at the routes we don't use. We have at least a dozen men in here every night standing guard, armed with flame throwers and some pistols with the wooden ammo we got from you guys last time."

"That'll do I guess."

Pablo looked at Gunn, outraged. "He guesses!?"

"How about the sewers? You have them covered of course?"

"Of course." Gunn looked smug.

"Good." Xander looked back at the door, "Patches!"

Pablo stared at the small cat running across the room. <what the hell?>

"I'm going to crash now, this couch looks good enough. Wake me for the hunt."

Xander reached under his coat and unsnapped the straps that kept Deathstalker fastened to his torso and pulled the sheathed blade out. Not bothering to remove his coat he dropped into the couch. His sword cradled in the crook of his left arm while the right firmly gripped the hilt.

Pablo watched speechless as the small patchwork cat hopped up and lay down, curling itself in the crook of the teens neck. Pablo turned to Gunn, "Who the hell is this guy?"

Gunn didn't bother to answer, he just turned and headed for the inner rooms. Pablo shrugged and, with a final glare at Xander followed him. Both of the street warriors could hear the soft snores coming from the couch before they were halfway to the door.

*****

Dusk was a couple hours away when Gunn's crew had started to assemble at their base of operations, bringing with them the most amazing variety of weapons. As the group met together a single train of thought was running through each of their heads. It took forty five minutes for one of them to put voice to the thought that each felt.

"Who the hell is sleeping beauty on the couch out there?"

Gunn grinned at the bluntness of the question, only Jaina would ever have phrased it that way. "His name is Xander Harris, he's volunteered to help out with tonights hunt."

A chorus of groans and yells sounded in the room.

"Who the hell is he?"

"Is he any good?"

"Can he be trusted?"

"We don't need no help from white bread out there!"

This last comment was greeted with considerably support, and Gunn decided to try to change that attitude. "Hey! We need any help we can get. And since he's one of SecSeven's agents, and he's volunteering for tonight only, I plan on taking advantage of his offer."

The yelling died down to a low mutter when Gunn laid down the law, many of them weren't happy but Gunn was the man who kept them alive.

*****

//Xander. Wake up! some people are sneaking around outside, and I don't think they belong here!//

Xander's eyes snapped open, his body tensing as it pushed all the weariness from his cells. He'd never been able to wake up like this before, another benefit of Robin's manipulations he supposed. <Although, on second thought judging from Oz that's not one of the benefits.>

Xander grinned at the thought as he hopped up, <Maybe it's the green beret training?>

Pushing his thoughts aside Xander strapped his sword back into place, and looked around the darkened room for a moment before walking towards the light coming from a nearby doorway. When he reached the door he heard the arguments and mutters from inside and stopped at the door frame, leaning in plain sight with an amused look on his face.

*****

Gunn was moving through the room, checking weapons and giving moral support to those he felt needed it. A shadow at the door attracted his attention and he saw Xander lean against the door, looking like he was watching something funny.

"Something funny in here Harris?"

Xander watched the faces in the room swivel to look at him, and he raised his hands in a patented 'who me?' gesture. "Funny? depends on what you mean by funny."

The glares he was received told Xander that he'd better clear up his meaning, and fast. "Watching you guys is a lot like looking back a few years at myself and the old team. And if you want funny, just consider our old name. I called the team, myself included, 'The Slayerettes'."

Xander's crooked grin and humor won over a portion of the crowd, but some remained unconvinced. "What are you doing here white bread?"

Xander dropped the smile, his whole body stiffening, "I'm letting you guys know that you have a bunch of people sneaking around outside your headquarters. You missing any people tonight?"

The room got cold as Gunn did a fast head count, "Everyone's here!"

Xander nodded as he heard the breathes of relief, at least no one had been turned. "Ok, then that leaves a couple other options." Xander held up his fingers, "One, they followed somebody. Two, they lucked into your locations. or Three, false alarm and we have some civilians wandering around the area after dark."

Gunn looked at Xander for a moment before asking, "How do you know anyone is out there?"

Xander quirked a grin, "My cat told me."

With that Xander turned and left the area, heading out to greet the visitors.

*****

Back in the large room Xander checked his twin Glock 18's and the Berreta he was carrying. He briefly cursed himself for leaving his heavier weapons in the van, but it hadn't seemed necessary to sleep with an MP5 or two slung to his shoulders. <Live and learn.>

//Lets get these guys!//

<No!> Xander's mental voice was firm, <Its too early in the evening and there are too many potential witnesses. Stay out of this one unless things go south.>

The cat looked sourly at Xander before reluctantly agreeing. //All right. But your ruining my vacation.>

"Wise ass." Xander whispered under his breath.

//Proud of it.// replied Patches.

As he reached the door he could hear Gunn and two of his crew come up behind him. Xander flicked his hand back, motioning them to silence, then silently opened the door.

Outside he could here whispers from a fair distance off.

*****

"You sure this is the place?"

"Yeah. The guy was specific when he called. That psycho Gunn and his crew are in here."

"Gonna love chewing those bastards up."

"That's not the job. We're here for the other."

"Yeah I know, I know. Hey man, what's with the vests anyway? We're Vampires for hells sake, bullets don't hurt us."

"How the hell should I know. This is the way the guy wanted it. We get the target, we wear the vests, we do whatever else the guy says. You got a problem with that?"

"No... no... no problem. The damn thing itches though."

"Yeah I know... lets get this over with."

*****

Xander moved back and quietly closed the door, turning to Gunn he whispered, "Hey man, what are you guys packing in those guns of yours?"

Gunn grinned, "Wooden bullets man. Some we got from you guys and some we started loading ourselves. They work man, I tested them myself."

Xander shook his head, "Bring up the flame throwers, these vamps are packing armored vests."

Gunn looked shocked. "What? are you nuts? Vamps don't go in for that stuff."

"I know damn it, but these bastards must be hooked up with the ones I dusted this morning. Why do you think I resorted to swordplay?"

Gunn nodded reluctantly and moved back to inform his people of the situation. Xander watched the crew reorganize itself, a makeshift Fire Team <literally.> moving up to the front lines. Xander pulled his Berreta from under his coat and handed it back to Gunn.

"I thought you said they had vests?"

"They do. Double pop the 'living impaired' freaks in the head. Every second bullet is enchanted silver, it'll do the job."

Gunn nodded as Xander drew a pair of twin Glocks and prepared to move out. A brief glance back at Gunn confirmed that his people were ready to move so Xander gently pushed the door open a sliver and listened again. The whispering was over but his hearing was good enough to hear the nearly silent scuffing the vampires made as they moved.

Xander glanced back, nodded to Gunn, and then rolled through, opening the door as he passed. He came out of the roll three feet outside, his twin pistols aimed at two vamps with shocked looks on their faces.

He stared over the rails of his pistols for a long second before his instincts took over and the muzzle flashes burned deep into his retinas.

Pa-pow! Pa-pow!

The first two vamps disintegrated into dust as Xander's semi-conscious mind began tallying the opposition. <Not good.> The back of his mind stopped counting when he hit thirty vamped-out faces. He could hear the curses and gunshots as Gunn and his crew entered the fray and started adding the numbers themselves.

"Shit! How many of the fang faces *are* there?!" Gunn sounded more angry then frightened, something that pissed Xander off instantly.

Xander prayed for a nonexistent moment that Gunn used anger to mask fear the way he himself used his not so subtle humor, because if Gunn actually wasn't frightened then Xander figured he was fighting along side a lunatic. And that idea suddenly struck him as the most frightening thing he had ever faced.

"Shut up and get the fire team out here!" Xander was in no mood for messing around. The situation had become lethally serious.

*****

On another roof this time the same man watched the battle commence. He had expected to see a vampire invasion, a surprise attack on a group of barely prepared street thugs. Instead the fire fight began several minutes ahead of schedule when the target dropped the hammer on two of the undead killers for hire the man had sent against him.

<Damn this kid is fast. I'm starting to see why he's worth so much.> The man grinned suddenly, it twisted his face in a sinister manner. <Or rather, why his head is worth so much.>

The kid's first shots eliminated the closest vampires quickly and seemed to put the fear of god into the rest, or at least a heck of a shock. A couple seconds later another kid popped out beside him, firing a single pistol into the advancing horde. The man in black watched the fight with fascination as two children, hardly old enough to drive, laid down covering fire while a fire team sets up some kind of weaponry behind them.

<Good tactics. How does a brat from the suburbs learn small unit tactics like that? Going to have to isolate him. Take him out when he's alone.>

The fire team had apparently completed their setup as one of them tapped the second young man on the shoulder. The man watched as the two gunmen fell back, behind the fire team and continued to fire into the horde. A moment later his eyebrows reached for the sky as he realized how apt the term 'Fire team' actually was.

The flames reached out over thirty feet, roasting almost a dozen of the closest vamps with a sudden and reckless ease that startled the watcher. For the first time it looked that he might fail in this attempt. That irritated him, he didn't like failing. And failing twice in a row was inexcusable.

<Finally.> The man allowed himself to smile, his own 'fire team' was moving into position. In a moment he'd see how the boy dealt with a completely new level of threat.

*****

Xander watched as the flames began dusting the vampires who had come too close in their assault. <A wall of flame defense. Niceness.>

What remained of his night vision after the repeated muzzle flashes from his Glocks had been totally destroyed when the flame throwers opened up, but Xander figured that for a necessary evil and tried to shrug it off. He could only catch glimpses through the sweeping flames of the activity beyond, but what he did see didn't look good.

"Cease Fire!"

The crew barely glanced at him when he yelled the order, and those that did looked as though they wanted to turn the flame units on him. It wasn't until Gunn repeated his order that the flame units slowly started to die down. Somehow, through the latent images of fire still flickering on the back of his retina's Xander managed to piece together what was happening. His eyes widened as the pieces snapped into place and he realized how close death really was.

"Take cover!"

*****

Satisfaction permeated the man's soul as he watched the vampiric fire team move into position, their automatic weapons locking onto the target rich field in front of them. He had been ecstatic to find a half dozen of the younger vamps with enough talent in firearms to make a quarter decent heavy weapons team.

He continued to watch as the flames from the defenders died down and his target suddenly screamed something he couldn't quite hear. He smiled as the defenders attempted to scatter as the assault weapons opened up.

<I do so love watching the tables turn.>

*****

Xander cringed internally as he felt, rather then heard, the whine of bullets cleaving the air around him. The vamps were lousy shots but, at this range and with the firepower they had, it wasn't going to make the slightest difference.

He screamed in frustration as his pistols locked back on empty clips, his last shot's echo lost into the hammering barrage coming from the automatic weapons in front of him. His last shots had caught two of the M-16 toting bastards but now he was bone dry. As far away as they were, as dark as the night was in this part of town, Xander could see the evil glint in the eyes of his enemies as they slowly approached his position, hurling more lethal projectiles at him and his with every step.

He briefly glanced around and was gratified that Gunn and the fire team had taken his advice and dived for cover. It wasn't until his eyes swept back that he caught sight of Jaina, the single remaining member of the fire team nursing a twisted ankle as she tried to limp back into the warehouse. He could hear the screams coming from inside the building as someone tried to come back out to help here.

<For god's sake stay inside! you can't help her if your dead!>

That sole thought burning in his mind he spotted the shift in aim of the enemy fire team. They weren't going for suppression fire now, they were about to fire for effect.

*****

"Take that you pyromaniac bastards!" The vampire was cackling in a decidedly insane manner as he hosed down the door his targets had fled through. He slowly played the M-16 across the doorway, watching the hard wood splinter from the impacts.

"There's still two in the open!"

"Get them!"

"The guy is out of ammo! Get the chick with the toaster first!"

"Got it!" The four remaining gunmen re-aimed their weapons and opened fire.

*****

Some things Xander honestly didn't understand about himself, and his reaction to crisis was one of them. As a child he had always been the guy who got picked on when the bullies were on a rampage, though he never quite pieced together why. For some reason something inside him always took over, a snide crack here, a bad joke there. Somehow Xander Harris always managed to attract the attentions of the worst of the worst.

It was always his instincts that got him in trouble it seemed. Left to himself Xander figured he had a very healthy sense of self preservation, he certainly wasn't a warrior born like Steve or Buffy. Unfortunately something in him always seemed to snap when someone else was in trouble. His instincts took over and his instincts were, to his mind at least, quite insane.

As the guns opened up on the defenseless girl Xander stepped into the way, shoving Jaina to her knees as the first of the slugs caught him in the chest.

*****

The vampires wore shocked grins as they watched the man shield their target with his own body. Dozens of bullets impacted across his body as the vampires recognized the target and shifted their aim downwards, enjoying the jerking motions each impact caused to the foolish boy.

"Bloody hell! That damn kid's a total fruitcake!"

The others just nodded, stupid and unbelieving grins plastered across their demonic faces.

*****

The man in black grinned as he watched his target take dozens of rounds to save a girl. <Mission accomplished. Those vamps even remembered not to damage the merchandise. All I have to do now is wait for the cops to arrive, shouldn't take too long, and then a quick trip to the coroner and that brat's head is mine.>

*****

Xander felt the impacts pushing him backwards, lifting him clear of the ground, and sending him back over the kneeling girl behind him. Through the pain he managed to scream one word. "Run!"

Thanking all the gods he'd ever met, when she listened to his advice and ran for the doorway, Xander Harris let the darkness enfold him as he hit the ground.

*****

"Jesus! He's dead!" Gunn was shocked. He wasn't sure if he actually liked the Harris kid but he'd never seen anyone act like that in his life. Gunn managed to pull Jaina in as she reached the door, literally picking her up by her shirt and belt and tossing her into the room as she stumbled by.

"Oh god oh god oh god." Jaina was on the ground, her friends around her, trying to check her for injuries.

"Are you all right?"

She just kept repeating her litany over and over until Gunn finally shook her, "Snap out of it girl! Are you all right?"

She finally stopped and looked blankly at Gunn, "Why'd he do it? For god's sake, why? He could have gotten clear."

Gunn just shook his head, "I don't know, but pull yourself together now. there are still several vamps waiting to make a snack out of us. You got that?"

She nodded dully, still in shock.

"Good."

"Gunn! The vamps are moving in. Looks like their heading for the body!"

Gunn snarled as he turned, "lay down a wall of flames the second they come into range! I ain't letting a bunch of blood drinking son's of bitches get their way. Not here! Not tonight!"

His crew nodded, their faces hardening with resolve. No quarter was the code for the night. No vampire was leaving this battle alive.

*****

The man was still grinning when the flames began licking the area, obscuring both the vamps and his target from sight. <Hell no! Those damn fools may damage the target!>

A moment later the flames died down for a moment and he cursed again. The target had vanished.

*****

//Xander! Xander! Hold on, I'm coming for you!//

The ground was hard and surprisingly cold when Xander managed to haul himself back from the darkness. His eyes burned with an orange glow he couldn't place until he managed to twist his head slightly and saw the flames licking the ground nearby.

<No! Stay there and protect the others! I'm heading for the van.>

Xander painfully pulled himself to his feet, turned and sprinted towards his van.

*****

Xander examined the bullet impacts along the side of the van and cursed. <Steve is gonna be pissed.> The he did a double take and cursed again, <Shit! If any cops see that I'm gonna have a lot of fast talking to do.>

Once inside the black van Xander started ripping the paneling off the interior walls, revealing a small but formidable armory. Ignoring the shooting pains in his chest and stomach he slipped on two shoulder harnesses and strapped on two MP5-K's. Ignoring the vamp-killer supply he grabbed the demon killer clips from the small supply of ammunition he carried he quickly slapped them into his pistols and MP5's. Before turning away he lifted the kevlar ammo pouch from its place and slung it over his shoulder.

Rearmed, Xander slipped out the sliding door and back into the battle.

*****

The man was still searching frantically for the target when the movement of a shadow caught his eye. His eyes widened as he saw the target appear out of the shadows, a machine pistol in each hand, firing fiercely on the vampires trying to approach the bunkered down defenders.

<How did he survive? Surely he's not one of us?>

*****

Even with his vision obscured by the flames erupting from the bunkered down defenders Xander was able to spot the muzzle flashes of the vampires M-16's quite easily. With their attention diverted by the defenders flamethrowers the four armed vampires never saw the shadow that approached their flank.

At twenty feet he leveled the twin machine pistols and started firing short bursts into the unsuspecting vampires.

*****

"Keep firing! They're pushing in!" Gunn was reloading his crossbow as the group of vamps continued to push forward. He fervently wished that Harris had given him more ammo for the Berretta he had been forced to drop earlier. <Crossbows just ain't my style, but who'd have guessed some vamps would come into the 20th century and start packing kevlar?>

The flamethrowers had begun to sputter out as their reserves of napalm ran dry, leaving large areas uncovered as the vampires started to move forward with molotov cocktails and other improvised explosives.

"Gunn! Whitebread's still kicking!"

Gunn looked up from his crossbow and saw Xander's face and hands followed quickly by the flowing black coat come out of the darkness. He watched as the boy's arms came up and Gunn's eye's widened as he realized that Xander had rearmed somewhere along the road.

The brief muzzle flashes from Harris' guns burnt into his eyes as he watched the kid attack the vampires, dusting the first two before they even had a clue he was there. The last two M-16 toting vamps had time to swivel their aim even as Xander shifted his own. Gunn watched as both sides opened fire on each other, the first shots plucking at Xander's coat as he strode forward into the mix.

*****

Xander felt the first shots yank at the loose parts of his coat as he continued to fire on the vampires. <Damn I hope they don't aim for the head.>

He winced as one of the 5.56 rounds caught him in the shoulder, sending a shooting pain through his right arm and throwing his aim off for a moment. gritting his teeth Xander shifted aim again and put a three round burst into the head of the offending vampire.

Xander smiled as the slide on the last vampire's M-16 locked back, his smile rapidly become a deaths head grin as he deliberately stalked closer to the terrified demon. A blur in the corner of his eye shifted his attention momentarily as a vamp charged him, Xander shifted one MP5 off his main target and dusted his attacker without blinking.

*****

Kal gulped as he watched as the kid blew away one of his brethren without blinking. The hot metal of the M-16 in his hands wasn't feeling terribly useful at the moment but Kal hefted it by the barrel, ignoring the searing burns as the hot metal cooked the skin on his hands. <I ain't gonna be taken down by some brat with an fucking gun complex!>

*****

Gunn watched the confrontation as the vampire changed his grip on the empty rifle and held it up like a baseball bat. Gunn watched as Xander calmly dusted a vamp trying to charge, then shifted his aim back to the first. <Just dust the bloodsucker!>

Xander glanced around him and realized that the remaining vampires had scattered, running off for easier prey. He looked back at the sole attacker over the metal sights of his MP5-K's and his smile widens as he nonchalantly drops the guns, letting them hang from their straps. A moment later his sword is in his hands as he continues to advance on the vamp.

"Who are you?" Kal was nervous, he hadn't expected any trouble, but this kid was scary.

"The name's Xander, but I don't think you'll have much cause to use it fang boy."

Kal tightened his grip on the rifle and lunged forward, swinging the M16 like a bat at the kid's head. Xander just ducked, letting the rifle pass a quarter inch above his scull before he came up with a punch to the vamps jaw. Kal was rocked back by the force of the punch, he rarely been hit that hard even by another vampire.

"What the hell are you!" Kal managed to growl out as he back away.

Xander grinned at him, "Is this where I'm supposed to say 'Your worst nightmare' or some other piece of cheesy trash? Sorry pal, I save the good material for the heavy hitters."

Kal snarled and took another swing, missing by a mile as his target danced back. "Heavy hitters? I'm a vampire you little pest, I am the heavy hitters!"

Xander smirked, and shook his head, "Oh please. You, my living impaired friend, barely qualify as a warm up. Hell man, I was firing silver bullets into Throlog last July. I drink sodas and shoot the shit with tougher AND meaner bastards then you."

Kal shuddered, he'd heard about the fiasco at the forum over the summer but never thought he'd ever be facing someone who was present. Tensing he shifted his grip on the rifle and threw it at the boy, bolting as the kid ducked.

"Oh no you don't!" Xander easily avoided the thrown rifle and charged the escaping vampire before he could get four steps. Catching the vampire in the lower abdomen with his sword Xander bent down and used his full strength to lift the vamps feet clear of the ground. Charging, Xander slammed the vampire into the wall of the warehouse and drove the titanium blade deep into the solid wall.

Xander stepped back and let go of the pommel, leaving the vampire pinned to the wall almost three feet off the ground. As the demon shrieked in pain Xander pulled out a wickedly curved wooden dagger and laid it gently across the demons throat.

"You know why it hurts so much?" Xander asked calmly, "The blade has been blessed three times. Two different Gods even. Tell me what I want to know and I'll dust you quick."

The vampire cursed and tried to grab him with its free arms, only to feel the blade slice another quarter inch higher into his stomach before he collapsed back against the wall, screaming.

Xander made a low clucking sound, "Not smart. Your own body weight is pulling you down boyo, move and the blade just cuts you up faster. Its gonna hit your heart... eventually. Just tell me where your nest is and I'll finish it quick."

Kal manages to swallow his pain for a moment, "Promise you wont kill me and I'll tell you what you want to know."

Xander considers for a moment before turning back, "Fair enough. Where's the nest?"

Kal is silent for a moment, then finally responds. "48th and 12th. Basement of an old warehouse."

"How many vamps?"

Kal is silent for another long moment, his teeth gritting against the pain of the triple blessed weapon in his guts. Finally he spoke again, "A dozen left. No more."

Xander nods, then yanks the blade out of the wall and the vampires gut. Kal falls to the ground and doubles over. Xander turns as he hears Gunn come up behind him.

"Aint you gonna dust him?"

Xander doesn't look back at the crawling vampire, "I told him I wouldn't kill him if he told me where to find the nest."

Gunn looks at him in disbelief, "You can't let him go!"

Xander pulled a Glock from his shoulder holster and tossed it to Gunn as he walked back to the door.

"I never said I'd let him go." Xander says to the shocked gang as he walks past them into the building, not flinching when the shot rang out. "I just said that *I* wouldn't kill him"

*****

Gunn tossed the pistol back to Xander as he walked back through the door, "Thanks."

Xander just nodded, snapping the weapon back into it's holster, as he turned to Jaina, who was still on the floor. "You ok?"

She nods as she looks at him in shock, "You... you... how?"

"Yeah Harris, why ain't you dead?" Gunn is standing behind him with a determined look on his face.

Xander shrugged and painfully slipped his long coat off his shoulders, "The coat is bulletproof... well, as close as you can get nowadays anyway. My boss had it made for some of his very... *old* friends. They didn't have much use for it though, decided it was too heavy I guess. They don't worry much about bullets anyway. The material is based on a mundane version of our battle armor."

Gunn's eyes narrowed, "Mundane?"

Xander backpedaled, thinking quickly, "Sorry, I meant that our armor is tricked out with a lot of extras not included in the coat."

Gunn looked at the coat with interest, "What can it stop?"

Xander grinned, "At the very least it can handle 5.56 NATO rounds with full metal jackets, in theory it can handle a .50 caliber sniper round. Of course the impact itself would probably liquify my internal organs... So in practice I'd say a 7.62 round would be the limit. As long as it isn't armor piercing." Then Xander winced, "but it hurts like hell. The battle armor is a firm plate that spreads out the impact, this thing just stops the bullet from tearing a hole in you. I think I have a few bruised ribs."

"Why didn't you just wear the armor then?"

Xander turned to the voice, seeing that Pablo had entered the conversation. "Full plate armor is a little conspicuous, this was made for blending in as well as concealing weapons."

Xander looks around at the group, "So, who's up for a little nest clearing?"

*****

A short while later Xander, Gunn, and the crew were loading into Xander's van in preparation for the assault on the vampire nest.

"Ok, these vamps probably won't be armored. From what I heard they were told to pack the vests for this mission only, this means we can go in with wooden bullets. Even so, we'll have to pack the silver tips just in case."

Gunn nodded, relieved, "Good. We're bringing along a half dozen flame units as well."

Xander grinned, "Of course. Those things are pretty useful."

"Holy hell! you've got an armory back here!" Pablo was looking at the exposed panels in shock.

Xander shrugged as he closed them up, "Not really. just a few party favors in case I run into trouble."

Gunn and crew looked at each other for a moment before looking back at Xander oddly, "You guys are crazy."

With that final word on matters the gang slammed the doors shut and Xander chuckled to himself as he slid behind the wheel and pulled the van out of the old lot and heading for the next target.

//Didn't take them long to peg you did it?//

<Oh shut up Patches.>

*****

Parked in a quiet section of town Xander examine the activity around the target warehouse through his pocket monocular scope.

"Lying bastard."

Gunn looked over at him from the passenger seat, "What are you talking about?"

Xander passed the scope over to Gunn, "I've counted at least eighteen of the bastards so far. That prick said there wouldn't be more the a dozen, and we haven't even been able to check out the basement yet."

Xander could hear murmuring from the back of the van.

"No problem."

"We can handle it."

"Bloodsuckers gonna die man."

"What are we waiting for, lets get going!"

Xander shook his head and thumbed the electronic lock on the door. The sound of all the vans locks engaging startled his passengers. Xander turned his head and looked as his angry 'team'.

"I don't think so. Listen up and listen good, this is not a game of cowboys and Indians. You got that? We sit tight and continue surveillance until backup arrives."

"Backup? what backup?"

Xander grinned and pulled out his digital cell phone and dialed Kelly's number from memory.

*****

Kelly grabbed his cell on the third ring. "Talk to me."

"Kelly, Xander. I need some backup to raid a nest, the Zombies available?"

Kelly looked around Buster's bar and grill, all of the team was nearby and still sober. "Yeah no problem. What's the sitch?"

"Looks like at least a couple dozen vamps maybe more. I'm calling HQ for a blueprint of the warehouse at 48th and 12th. Don't forget your Ginsu's."

Kelly grinned into the phone, "Not likely friend. Not likely at all."

The connection when dead and Kelly called the Zombies close. "Xander and Gunn's crew located a nest down in the warehouse district. He's calling in for back up, you guy's up for it?"

The Zombies smiled and nodded, their beers instantly forgotten.

*****

Steve St Wolf was comfortably watching holiday movies with Buffy when the phone started ringing. Cursing mildly he extricated himself from Buffy's warm embrace and grabbed the phone.

"St. Wolf."

"Steve, this is Xander. I've got some problems here in L.A. and need you to find the blue prints of a warehouse for me."

Steve shook his head clear and went into the computer room, punching up the information for the warehouse Xander asked about. "Ok, got it. I'll send them to the laptop in the Van. What's going on?"

"A nest. At least a couple dozen vamps, I've already called in the Zombies but do you think you can see if Hans is available?"

Steve nodded as he rifled through his book, "No problem. I'll see who else I can get you too. Be damned careful Xander."

"I will," Xander paused, "Look Steve, there is something weird going on here. Someone is convincing the vamps to pack kevlar vests. Even the silver stuff isn't armor piercing Steve, if this is a trend its gonna wreak havoc with our units. We may need to start working on some new party favors."

"Damn. Your kidding me?"

"Sorry man, no joke. One good thing is that the Vamps are resisting it. They don't like packing armor. I heard one say that it itches."

Steve grinned at that, "Well at least some things don't change. Anything else?"

Xander's voice grew quiet, as though he was whispering to avoid being overheard. "I'm not sure but I think the vamps I ran into earlier were hunting me specifically."

"What!" Steve, on the other hand, didn't bother to hide his voice. "Are you sure?"

"Not yet, but I was listening to the vamps before they attacked us and they were definitely after someone other then Gunn's crew." Xander paused, "Although they were pretty happy about having a chance to take down Gunn. Since I'm the only new element here It's an easy line to draw."

"Xander I want you back here." Steve's voice was serious.

"No can do. I'm staying on mission Steve. If I fall back to Sunnydale I don't think we'll be able to find out who's behind this, and that'll mean they'll be free to move the next time I leave the area. I'll be on my guard, and we have friends in L.A. and San Fran."

"Right." Steve wasn't happy, but Xander was right. If someone out there was tracking his people it was important to know who and why.

"Oh and Steve?" Xander paused.

"Yeah?"

"Thanks for the coat. It works as advertised." the phone clicked as Xander hung up.

Steve stared at the phone for a long moment, trying to decide if he should curse or laugh. he finally decided on both as he walk back to the living room muttering to himself.

Buffy moves over as he steps back into the living room, "Honey? What's wrong?"

Steve looks at her, "Xander's got himself into a fix," he relates what Xander told him.

Buffy looks concerned, "I hope he'll be ok. Can we do anything?"

Steve shakes his head, "Not really. Its too late to get to L.A. now. We could meet him in San Francisco tomorrow, but he wouldn't thank us for it and it would probably scare off whoever is behind this. Xander knows he's being watched now, that means he's no longer the hunted, now he's the hunter. Besides, he's smart enough to call for backup when he needs it, lets just hope he doesn't get in too deep."

Buffy curled up close to Steve and rested her head against his chest, "He'd better be all right."

Steve just nodded and started dialing.

*****

"Harris, how long do you expect us to wait here?" Gunn was beginning to fidget, and his people were a fair sight worse.

Xander didn't respond for a while, then finally he sighed and spoke. "Patience is a virtue Gunn. Don't be so eager to fight, you'll just get yourself killed or worse."

"Worse?"

"Worse." Xander answered, his voice flat, "You could be turned. Or get your people killed."

Gunn shut up. That was the one thing that would stop him from moving too fast. His crew deserved better, and he knew it. They were his crew because they knew that he understood that fact.

It was fifteen minutes before the SWAT van pulled up and parked just in front of them. Xander and Gunn watched as the Zombies hopped out of the van and walked up to them, Xander opened the door and stepped out to greet them.

"Hey guys, glad you were free for a little moonlighting." Xander grinned as the Zombies team circled around him.

"Yeah right. Like we're getting paid for this crap." Rickman groused with good natured humor.

"Whoever said the good fight paid well?" Xander asked in a comical drawl. "Anyway, Hans should be here soon then we can get this show on the road."

"Not quite, we're also waiting on another friend of ours. She should be along soon as well."

"Alright. Two to go, then we can get down to business." Xander paused, then turned away from the group, "Look guys, I'm going to gear up. Be out in a moment."

The Zombies nod and watch Xander slide open the side door of the van.

"Ok guys, everyone out. I'm going to break out some toys."

Gunn's crew slowly piled out, flinching under the steady stares of the Zombies. Xander caught Gunn as he was slipping out and handed him his coat. "Here Gunn, you'd better take this."

"Don't you need it?" Gunn asked as he reached out to grab the black coat and was surprised to find his arm suddenly traveling toward the ground. "Damn! This thing must weigh thirty pounds!"

Xander didn't bother to look back, "Thirty five. I told you that it was heavy."

With that Xander slid the door shut, leaving Gunn's crew squirming under the serious gaze of the Zombies.

*****

Inside the van Xander started tearing the paneling off the walls of the Van, exposing the weapons and gear Steve had managed to stash in the van. Next he pulled up a hatch in the floor and pulled his Grail Knight armor from the recessed area underneath.

<Thank god for boy scouts.> Xander thought as he strapped the armor on, <I can't believe that I was trying to convince Steve to let me toss a couple saddlebags on the bike and motor up here that way.>

*****

A few minutes later Xander stepped back out of the van in full battle armor, his sword clearly visible on his back. Wooden daggers and ammo clips were tucked across the armor in easily accessible positions.

Xander glanced over at the assembled Zombies in their urban combat gear and nodded a second greeting. Looking over the group for a moment he realized that the group had grown while he was suiting up. A quick glance at the first of the newcomers brought a grin to his face.

"Hans, Good to see you. You brought your friends I see?"

The Immortal grinned in return, "I've been trying to ditch them for months but they insist on hanging around for hunts."

Hanson and Argus mock scowled at their friend but refrained from any comments.

Xander turned to the other two newcomers, "JD, Good to see you again. Heya Steve, glad you could make it man."

JD nodded in greeting, while Steve grinned and took a step forward, "Good to see you again Xander."

"You too man, things going good?" Xander grinned when Steve nodded and, turning back to the van, pulled his laptop out. "Lets get down to business shall we?"

*****

Kelly led his team around the back of the warehouse, watching Ricker and Koffman's back as they swept the area carefully with their night vision scopes. Ricker paused for a second and fired two shots from the silenced rifle, the nearly silent 'chuffs' fading quickly into the night.

"Ricker here. One out, one down."

Xander's voice came back over the radio, a quiet whisper, "Roger, one out one down. Good job. Proceed on mission."

Kelly nodded, mostly to himself, and moved on to the teams target, a rear door that they needed to cover to prevent escapes.

*****

"Ricker here. One out, one down."

Xander smiled slightly, accepting the status report, the whispered into his mic, "Roger, one out one down. Good job. Proceed on mission."

"Ok guys lets move in and secure the door."

Behind him Hans, Steve, and JD nodded and followed him to the big double doors, sticking close to the walls and hiding in the available shadows. Once at the door they paused and carefully examined the area.

"Kelly here. In position, awaiting go."

Xander nodded to the others, who looked at him and nodded back. "Xander here. Both teams are go in ten."

*****

Kelly evenly counted down to zero before giving the order to his men. "Alright. Move out."

Ricker knocked the door in and dropped back out of the way, leaving Kelly and Koffman room to advance through the doorway with their weapons sweeping the warehouse. Across the way they could see Hans, Steve, and JD doing the same with Xander moving in quickly behind them.

The interior of the warehouse erupted in gunfire as both teams opened up with short, controlled bursts.

*****

Jason Bier heard the doors to his warehouse smash open and looked up from his meal, a young woman one of his children brought after the nights hunt. Her delectable taste was quickly forgotten as he saw the mortals enter like police would. Jason smiled, it wasn't often that the buffet served itself.

"Get them!"

*****

The vampires reacted quickly, charging the two teams as they entered the building. Xander watched as his group opened up with wooden bullets, nervously watching for the results. He hoped they worked since his supply of silver tips was far from infinite. He breathed a sigh of relief as the vamps began disintegrating with each shot. Leveling his own weapon he took up a covering position and added his own variety of chaos to the mix.

*****

In three hundred years Bier had never run into the like of what he now saw. Two teams of mortals were decimating his children, each shot from their firearms was the death knoll of another vampire. <They are cutting through my children as if... as if my vampires were... Mortals!> he thrust that thought away in disgust.

"Kill them all! Kill them!"

*****

"Kill them all! Kill them!"

Xander listened as the vampire screamed in rage, <This is our one main advantage over the blood suckers. Their brand of immortality breeds stupidity.>

"They never learn." JD sounded amused by the vampire's raging.

Xander opened fire over her head, "Let's hope that they never do."

*****

The two teams acting as pincers closed in on the vampires, forcing them to group closer and closer together. Those that didn't permit themselves to be herded were soon dusted by combined fire from Kelly and Xander's teams.

When he saw the victims the vampires were using as food Xander almost had to change the plan on the fly but something held him back for a moment. Xander breathed a sigh of relief when he saw the Vampires abandon their food and move back towards the big garage door behind them. <Their victims must be too weak to move, and they don't want to carry them>

As the vampires reached a certain point Xander spoke into his radio, "Targets in position, Fire Team you are go."

*****

"You heard the man, blow the door!" Gunn took up his position as Hanson thumbed the detonator he was carrying.

The explosion splintered the big garage door, sending shards flying directly into the grouped vampires. Seconds later Gunn led his Fire Team through the smoking breech into the warehouse, their flamethrowers showering the surviving vampires with liquid fire as the team's two immortal guardians rained wooden bullets on any stragglers.

*****

Kelly watched the door fracture and splinter into the crowd of vamps and couldn't hold back a grin as he watched Gunn stride through the smoking ruins in the flowing black coat. <Right out of an action flick>

He and his team kept up their fire as the Flame units spread destruction among the surviving blood suckers. Across the way he could hear the gunfire as Xander's team did the same, keeping the demonic creatures penned in between a hail of gunfire and the flames of hell.

<Hell of a plan. Kid learns well from his teachers.>

*****

Xander grinned as the last of the vampires literally went up in smoke, "As a friend of mine likes to say... I love it when a plan comes together." Xander briefly wished that he had a cigar to chomp down on, but shrugged the feeling off. <Can't have everything.>

JD glared at Xander as if he were insane, "I swear to the gods and goddess above and below that if you start acting like your on the 'Jazz' I'll kick your ass up and down both sides of this warehouse and *then* I'll go find Hanibal Smith and kick HIS ass for fucking with my day."

Xander stared at her, stricken silent for a long moment before an involuntary laugh escaped his throat. Steve gave him a sympathetic grin while Hans just grinned at the kid and went back to covering his portion of the warehouse.

"Alright everyone move in! Gunn, take two of your boys and secure the victims. Kelly, secure the access to the basement. Everyone else take up positions in case some stragglers come in from the cold."

Quickly the hunters took their positions, guarding the area against further intrusions. Xander stepped over to the four victims, three of whom were unconscious. He checked them out quickly, but he didn't really have to to know what they needed.

"Kelly, get on the horn and get a couple ambulances down here! These people are going to need medical attention and most likely transfusions."

Kelly nodded, "They are already standing by, Xander, I called Captain Randall earlier."

Xander nodded and turned back to the fourth victim while Kelly called in the medics, "Are you all right Miss?"

The woman was white, only the red of her lips and the stain of blood along her throat giving her any indication of color. Her eyes were still clear though, and they searched Xander's face in fear, clearly looking for a demonic brow, razor sharp fangs, and yellow eyes.

"It's all right ma'am. Your going to be ok, we're with the LAPD. You've been rescued."

The woman stared at him for a moment, her eyes locking with his, before she started to sob. Her arms reached out and she pulled herself against Xander's armor plated chest holding him tightly. "V... vampires... they were..."

"Shh... shhhhh..." Xander cut her off, "I know. I know. Your going to be ok."

Xander looked around desperately but didn't see any help coming from the others. Finally he submitted to the inevitable and just held on for a few more seconds until the sirens could be heard in the distance. Xander then pushed her away until he could see her face again.

"I have to go now, but the paramedics will be here in a minute. We need to check the lower levels, so I have to ask, do you know what's down there?"

The girl shook her head but said, "They took two others down there after I was taken. It's been hours now. I haven't seen anyone but the... the va... vampires come back up."

Xander nodded, "Thank you. You've been a great help, so just sit tight until the ambulance arrives and you'll be on your way to the hospital. ok?"

The woman nodded and Xander stood up and waved JD over, "JD I want you to stay with them while we clear the basement."

"What!?" JD's eyes flashed, "Why the hell should I stay behind?"

"You're a girl." Xander's eyes suddenly went round as he realized that his statement didn't come out the way he intended. "uh... I mean.."

JD was instantly in his face, "You have a problem with women fighting?"

Xander, trying to shift his mind back into gear, suddenly managed to collect himself. "Hey! I fight with Amazons, the Slayer, and anyone else capable-"

"Oh so I'm not capable now?"

<Lord some day's it doesn't pay to get out of bed.> Xander grimaced as he was cut off, "Thats not what I said, but the last time I checked you're the only woman in the group."

JD actually paused for an instant with that, "So what?"

"So do you expect me to leave one of *them*," Xander jerked his thumb in the general direction of the Zombies, "with the victims?"

JD glanced over at the assembled SWAT officers, one of whom was picking his teeth with a stiletto, who looked like they belonged behind bars rather then behind a badge.

Xander had managed to regroup sufficiently to press on, "Or maybe one the gang bangers over there? What do you think, which would you prefer to wake up too after being fed on by vampires?"

JD's eyes narrowed as she managed to bite out, "All right already. You've made you point."

Xander nodded and headed over to Kelly. "The one that's awake is shook up pretty bad man."

Kelly looked at him with sympathy, "Not really surprising. It's a nasty shock just being kidnaped, having a few vamps suck on your throat has got to be one hell of an eye opener."

Xander raised an eyebrow and the Immortals choice of words but didn't say anything for a moment, "Here," He said finally handing Kelly a card from his pocket.

"What's this?" Kelly looked at the card curiously.

"It's the business card for a psychiatrist Section Seven keeps on retainer. Have the victims call the number if they need help."

Kelly pocketed the card, "Good idea that."

Xander shrugged, "Yeah well, if you have to have someone screwing with your skull he may as well know what messed you up in the first place."

Kelly nodded in agreement as Xander started calling in the assault team.

*****

The stairwell down to the basement was a far cry from Xander's idea of a good time. There was little to no light and the stairwell itself was tight and cramped. Kelly had insisted on taking point, an offer that Xander had to concede the value of, and he was moving slowly down the steep stairs with the rest of the Zombies and Xander following close behind.

The stairs ended at a solid door, stopping Kelly for a moment while he delicately checked the knob.

"Its locked." Kelly looked the door over carefully, "Too solid to kick down. We'll have to fall back and get the ram bar."

Xander stopped the men with a hand on Kelly's shoulder, "I'll handle the door. Everyone get ready."

Xander looked the door over carefully, checking for where the locking mechanism would be, before taking a deep breath. Focusing on the target he remembered the techniques Steve had taught him and let his foot explode into the door. The heavy oak shattered with the force of the kick, flinging the door open wide.

Xander stepped back, allowing Kelly and Ricker to go through the door in tandem. The two Zombies swept the dank room with their weapons, looking for targets.

Xander came in behind them, followed by the rest of the SWAT team.

The room was setup like some psychotics concept of a medieval torture chamber. A gallows had been erected in one corner of the room, a corpse still strung up and twisting slowly in the dank air. Xander moved silently through the room, feeling like a ghost amidst the macabre setting, until he reached what he thought was a chair.

A young woman had been tied solidly to the oaken seat, hear head firmly strapped to a brace inset in the back of the chair. A metal screw had been tightened to the back of the woman's neck. From the angle Xander could easily see that it had broken her neck. A garrote.

"Shit."

Kelly nodded dumbly, looking over the carnage. "Christ. They haven't even been fed on."

Xander didn't respond right away, he was forcing down a sudden urge to wretch. Finally he spoke again, "You lose a lot of qualities when your soul goes bye bye. Looks like you gain a few to replace them. Senseless fucking creatures."

"Anyone see any way out of here other then the door we came through?"

It was several minutes before they were able to answer that with any certainty, but it appeared that the room was a dead end. In far too many ways.

*****

Xander was leaning heavily against the grill of his van, watching the paramedics do their jobs from a safe distance. He had gotten his coat back from Gunn to cover his armor before the paramedics got a glimpse of it.

<I could get to hate raiding nests. At least patrols usually means you get the vamps before they get someone else. Or, at worst, you only have to deal with a corpse. I don't know if I can handle seeing that kind of crap on a regular basis.>

//You did the best anyone could Xander.//

Xander didn't respond, his mind barely acknowledging the cat's words.

"You ok kid?" Captain Randall approached the van slowly, a look of concern on his face.

Xander grimaced, "I'll get over it. I just prefer to nail the vamps on the streets. Seeing the results of a vampires extra curricular activities is actually worse then seeing their sloppy table manners."

Randall sighed, "Can't blame you for that Kid."

Xander grimaced as the conversation returned the images he had just witnessed to the forefront of his mind. The entire experience had left an actual physically bad taste in his mouth. Outwardly he forced his face to show a calm facade and straightened away from the van as he tried to project a strong face.

Randall watched as the boy composed himself, <Good kid. Hope he can deal with this crap and doesn't bury it too deep though.>

Xander watched as the Zombies and their friend JD finally separated themselves from the group of officers who had arrived on the scene and headed over to him.

"How are the victims?" Xander's voice was low.

Kelly grimaced, "Pretty bad. the first three are touch and go right now. The fourth looks like she'll pull through."

Xander nodded, it was pretty much as he'd expected. He sighed, "I'm going to have to pull out pretty soon if I want to make San Fran by dawn. Can you guys make sure Gunn and his crew get back?"

"Yeah, that's not a problem." Kelly paused, "Xander?"

Xander looked up at him curiously, "Yeah?"

"You did a good job tonight. You can't save them all, but you definitely saved more then you lost tonight kid."

Xander nodded as he got into the Van and started the engine, "Yeah. I know, but it don't make it any easier." He whispered as he shifted the van into gear and headed for the freeway.

*****

Rest Stop, Just west of San Francisco
27 December, 1998 - 02:30 PST

L.A. was far behind him before Xander pulled the van into a rest stop and shucked his armor and weapons, putting them back into the compartments and sealing them up. He should have done it before leaving but found himself unable to stop until L.A. was gone.

Hopping out of the van he headed toward the 24 hour mini-mall. <You want a snack?>

//Yeah!// Patches spoke up, lifting from the oppressive silence that had consumed the drive time from L.A., as a Guardian Spirit he found himself attuned somewhat closely to Xander's mood.

<All right kitty cat. Name it.>

Xander was surprised when Patches actually pretended to consider his answer for a long moment. <Chocolate and some cheese!>

Xander shuddered as he entered the store trying to bury the image of the cats choice in tasty combos. He wandered through the market, slowly grabbing things off the shelves, not really paying much attention to his surroundings.

//Uh... Xander?//

Xander didn't notice the cats voice in his head, his mind trailing over the events of the evening. The evening had been spent profitably but Xander couldn't pass over the images now burned into his minds eye. In L.A. last July Steve had sheltered most of the team from the worst of it, and in Sunnydale they had only rarely raided nests since they normally preferred to eliminate the vamps before they settled in.

//Xander...//

Again Xander didn't hear the cat's mental voice, his mind running over the past few years now instead of merely the nights activities. He had seen horrors during his brief career as a... a what? <What am I? Damnitall. Why am I worried about this now?> Xander shook his head in disgust, and whispered to himself "Lousy day. What else can happen to screw with me tonight?"

//Xander!//

<What!?> Xander finally jerked out of his reverie, and mentally snapping at the spirit.

"Freeze mother fuckers! Next person who moves I blow their fucking brains out!"

<Never mind.> Xander sank against the aisle, looking back over the chips at the cashier. A young tough was holding a shotgun at the female clerks head. Xander pause for a moment before looking skyward and muttering under his breath. "When I find out which one of you is floating around and waiting for me to open my big mouth so you can can open the gate to the lions den, I swear we are going to have a serious talk."

As he moved closer to the end of the aisle Xander could have sworn he heard someone laughing. <I've been hanging around Steve way too much. I never know when I'm imagining things anymore.>

He briefly considered drawing the Glocks he was packing but that would entail answering a lot of troublesome question later. Taking a deep breath he stepped out of the aisle, directly behind the gunman.

"Excuse me..." Xander let his voice take on an almost whimsical tone.

*****

"Excuse me..."

Jamus turned, startled by the sound of someone behind him. <Someone snuck up on me? How the hell?>

As his shotgun arced around to cover a new target, the young Gangrel only saw a blur of motion and felt an impact that sent his shot gun wide. His finger involuntarily tightened on the trigger, sending a plume of flame and phosphorous into the chip rack. In the next moment he felt the weapon knocked upwards, flipping over his shoulder, as his assailant neatly disarmed him.

A sickening crack and a sudden rush of darkness interrupted any thought of retaliation or defense.

*****

Xander held back a grin as the he saw the shotgun spin around predictably. As the gun started to come level with him he reached out an slapped it back, sending the muzzle wide as the punk's finger tightened on the trigger. As the weapon fired Xander closed on the punk, grabbing the shotgun just ahead of the trigger guard and forced it up and over the would be robber's shoulder.

A quick twist and the weapon came free of the punk's hands, leaving Xander in the perfect position to complete his move. Suddenly reversing his momentum, Xander slammed the butt of the weapon into the punk's head.

A clinical portion of his mind analyzed the sound as the young criminal dropped to the floor. <Solid hit, carotid vein twisted, instant knock out.>

*****

June Frier figured herself a goner the second the Gangrel stepped through the doors. She'd been warned about this one, an insane rogue that the entire clans were hunting as a danger to the masquerade. The young Toreador chalked it up to fate when the rogue Gangrel shoved the shotgun in her face and screamed something about a holdup.

It was all an act of course, just something so the police would write it off as a robbery gone bad. <Stupid expression that. Whoever heard of a robbery gone good?>

She knew her face must have betrayed her shock when a young man stepped from behind the chips and spoke with a hint of humor in his voice.

"Excuse me..."

What happened next was shocking. She couldn't piece the events together into any kind of coherent whole. The smell of the dragon's breath round frying the bags of chips, the blur of motion as the man disarmed the Gangrel without effort and turned the insane vampire's own weapon against him.

When it was over the man turned to look at the burning chip rack, staring at it for a long moment before turning back. June was trying to work up the courage to thank her rescuer when the look on his face shut her up. He slowly pumped the slide on the shotgun, catching the ejected round in his bare hand. June winced, a dragons breath round would be incredibly hot after so little time but the man didn't even flinch, he just lifted the shell to his nose and sniffed at it carefully.

His curiosity satisfied he started to examine the store carefully, slowly leaning over the counter, searching every small corner for something. During the entire time June nervously watched the young man and the shotgun. She saw that the weapon was never pointed directly at her, but never very far away either.

Finally he stepped close to her, leaning in silently, looking directly into her eyes before he seemed satisfied. She breathed a sigh of relief when he calmly ejected the shells from the shotgun, catching each one and depositing them carefully in his pockets, He tossed the empty shotgun onto the unconscious Gangrel and vanished back into the aisle.

She sucked in another breath when he reappeared with a load of junk food in his hands and asked to be wrung through.

*****

<Dragon's breath shells.> Xander was confused. He could smell the phosphorus on the shell he held between his fingers, could feel the heat trying to burn his hands, he knew what he was holding but it didn't make sense. Dropping the simmering shell he breathed a quick word of thanks to Shaw for the heat resistance spell she had laid on the sword currently strapped to his back.

<If he had a vamp killer, maybe he's a hunter.> Xander turned to the cashier slowly, not quite aiming at her but not aiming away either. Very slowly and deliberately he leaned far over the counter, checking for a corpse that would likely be there if the cashier was a vampire.

<Nothing.> Xander moved back and started to check the rest of the place. The washrooms, a storage closet, even the walk in cooler for the beer, soda, and other perishables. His quick search of the place had revealed no bodies, and he was pretty sure that no self respecting vampire would actually work a job like this.

<And then there's her eyes.> Xander was certain that there was no way a vampire would have been that terrified of the situation. The demons felt fear certainly, but they didn't show the same way humans did. <and that young lady is most definitely terrified.>

Finally he shrugged it off, <The punk must have gotten a hold of some pyro-shells from somewhere and thought they looked cool. Sick bastard.> Xander shuddered at the thought of what one of these would do to a normal human.

He started to relax, and felt his customary grin spread across his face as he dropped off his selection on the counter. "Could you ring me through please?"

He watched, amused, as the young woman nodded and fumbled her way through the process of ringing up his purchase. While she was working on that he knelt down and quickly taped the punk's hands and feet with a roll of duct tape he had grabbed while retrieving his snacks.

Xander straightened up and took the plastic bag from the cashier with a grin.

"Thanks, look I have an important meeting in town and I can't hang around. Tell the cops that I'll be meeting with Inspector Bridges of the SIU later and will answer any questions then, ok?"

The young woman nodded dumbly, making Xander wonder if she had really heard him. Frowning he decided to make sure, "Could you repeat what I just said?"

"um... Insp... Inspector Bridges. SIU. Ask questions then."

Xander grinned, "Close enough. I've got to go now, call the cops, but don't forget what I said."

With that Xander spun about and strode through the automatic doors.

*****

June watched the black van pull out of the lot and back onto the freeway before she grabbed the phone and dialed a number from memory.

*****

Julian Luna grabbed the phone on the first ring. Only a half dozen people in existence had the number to this private line and they didn't use it lightly.

"Hello?"

"Julian, it's Lilly. I have a situation. One of my people was working her 'night job' at a rest stop off the interstate when that rogue Gangrel that Cash is so annoyed with came after her."

Julian winced, that bastard Jamus should never have been Embraced. One look at the kids police record and psych profile from his juvenile file was enough to tell him that. "How badly is she hurt?"

The answer surprised him. "She's fine. A mortal bystander took down the Gangrel and left him trussed for the police."

Julian was silent for a long moment. "Are you sure?"

"Yes. She hasn't called the police yet, she wanted instructions."

Julian let out a breath he hadn't known he was holding. "Tell her to sit tight. I'll have it handled."

"Thank you Julian."

Hanging up the phone Luna thought for a moment before picking it up again and dialing. "Detective Kohanek's desk please."

*****

Xander didn't look back as he pulled out of the lot, the rest stop rapidly dwindling in the background.

//Xander? You ok?//

"Yeah, I'm fine kitty cat. Just got a quick reminder that demons ain't the only evil around. Looks like someone is telling me to grow up a bit."

Patches was silent as he slowly picked at his snacks. His charge had some very profound moods, and the young spirit had little idea on how he could help.

//Xander? Shouldn't you call Steve?//

Xander cursed and reached down and dialed Steve's number on the hands free cell phone.

*****

"St. Wolf residence."

"Hey Buff. Its me."

"Xander?" Buffy's voice was anxious, "Are you ok?"

"Yeah I'm cool. I'm heading into San Fran now, sorry I didn't call earlier. I just need some time to think."

Buffy's tone was subdued when she replied, "Yeah I heard. Hans called Steve earlier. Was it bad?"

"Not as bad as what you guy's saw back in July. But yeah, it was bad."

"I'm sorry Xander."

Xander smiled, forcing some humor into his voice, "Not your fault Buff. My choice, my problem. Don't worry about it, I can deal."

"I know but..." She slowly trailed off.

Xander smiled again, "I'll be fine Buff. Is Steve there?"

"Sure, one sec."

Xander waited patiently for a couple moments before Steve came on the lines.

"Xander?"

"Yeah its me. Sorry I didn't call you sooner."

Steve nodded into the phone, "Hans told me. You going to be good?"

Steve could hear the grin return to Xander's voice, "When am I ever good?"

"Yeah," Steve grinned into the phone, "your going to be fine."

"Bet on it. Look I'm pulling up to the SIU headquarters now. I'm gonna catch a quick nap and meet up with Nash when he shows up for work."

"K. Good luck and take care."

"Will do Steve. You guys stop waiting up for bad news about me you hear? Get some sleep... or at least some sack time." Xander finished of with a grin as he pulled into a parking space.

"Smartass."

"Always." Xander said as he closed the connection and shifted into park and shut the van down. Sighing he said goodnight to Patches and leaned the drivers seat back, closed his eyes and dropped off seconds later.

Patches stared at him for a long second before shaking his head from side to side in disgust. <Even I can't fall asleep that fast, and I'm a cat.>

*****

SIU Headquarters, San Francisco
27 December, 1998 - 09:00 PST

When Nash Bridges drove into his parking space for work that morning he was somewhat confused to find a group of officers standing a respectful distance from a black van he didn't recognize.

When he spotted Joe he called out, "Hey Bubba, what's going on here?"

"Nash man, check out that van. Tell me what those dents look like to you."

Nash looked at the van curiously before it hit him. "Shit. Are those bullet holes?"

Another officer came up beside him, "Nope. Those are bullet impacts on an armored surface. When I was in the army I saw that same pattern after a nut-job with an AK hosed down my HUMVEE."

The group of police officers murmured quietly at that revelation. When the door to the van suddenly opened and a kid wearing a Hawaiian shirt with two Glock pistols in shoulder holsters got out, several of them went for their guns.

"Whoa! Hold on people. Lets not get trigger happy here, k?"

Several members of the group barked out in laughter when they recognized the kid.

"Harris! What the hell are you doing? Trying to get yourself killed?"

Xander ignored Nash for a moment as he slid open the vans side door and pulled out his long black coat and swung the heavy garment over his shoulders.

"Are you telling me that the SIU is staffed with a bunch of trigger happy psychos that shoot first and ask question later?" Xander asked with a grin.

Joe Domingues grinned as he stepped over to greet the kid, looking around he checked the identities of those present before continuing. "Of course it is. Do you think anyone else would volunteer to work for a unit that hunts vampires in its spare time?"

Xander slips his arms into the coat, relaxing as he feels the comforting weight of Deathstalker press against his back. "I suppose it wouldn't be the only group of that type."

Nash just nodded, shaking his head at the sudden change one piece of clothing made to the boy. In a few seconds he went from a high school geek to a hit man straight out of the movies. Finally Nash spoke, "What brings you to my town, Bubba?"

Xander smiled, <As far as nicknames go that one's new to me.> "Just running some Christmas deliveries to the friends and neighbors of Section Seven, Nash man."

With that Xander reached back into the van and pulled out a small case, tucking it under his arms he looked back into the van and spoke, "You coming kitty cat?"

Patches rose and stretched himself slowly and deliberately before answering, //No, but I will take a look around. Stretch my legs... and uh... well, look for some sand....//

Xander chuckled as the cat hopped out of the van, slamming the sliding door he turned back to Nash. "Let's head up to your desk, Inspector, have I got something to show you."

Nash, staring after the departing cat, finally looked back. "Huh? Oh. yeah, fine... Let's go then, Bubba."

*****

Xander leaned back after finishing his 'responsibility spiel' and looked at Nash and Joe's faces. It didn't take him long to realize that they still hadn't quite got it. Xander sighed, "Look guys, I'm serious here. This stuff is last resort, hail Mary, prayer in the wind stuff. Don't waste it. Healing droughts are tough to brew and people who can do it are almost always already on the front lines in our war. If they're not then some front line group already has them under contract. I've got three here for you guys and another three for Tommy and the Shadowclan, but that's all. And I can't guarantee that any more will be available any time soon."

Nash looked at Joe before turning back to Xander and asking carefully, "What can this stuff do exactly?"

"It's pretty potent. Administered in time it can, at the very least, stave off death until you can get the victim to the hospital. Basically it can cure anything short of a severed head, or if not cure then stabilize them long enough for treatment. As long as they're breathing, this stuff can keep them that way."

Joe and Nash looked at each other, comprehension dawning on their faces.

"Jeeez." Joe's response was succinct.

Nash was silent a bit longer before he spoke, "We really appreciate this Bubba, I hope we never need it though."

Xander grinned, "Amen. but its better to have it then to need it."

The three people nodded in agreement at the sentiment as another man approached the desk.

"Inspector Bridges?"

Nash looked up, "Frank! How's it going?"

Detective Kohanek nodded in greeting to Nash and pulled a chair over, "I was called in on a robbery case this morning, would be robber got himself knocked cold by a bystander. The guy told the clerk that he was meeting you today."

Nash and Joe slowly turned to look at Xander, their faces a mix between astonishment and resigned disgust.

Xander looked at them and rolled his eyes to the ceiling "Oh right, blame the helpless teenager."

Nash snorted, "Helpless is one word I wouldn't ever use the same sentence with your name, Bubba."

Frank Kohanek looked at the young man curiously, "Was it you, kid?"

Xander looked at the group and nodded, "Yeah, I was picking up some snacks when this punk busts into the place screaming about a robbery or something. Guy looked like he was going to shoot the clerk on general principals so I intercepted, disarmed, and disabled him before he could kill someone."

Kohanek was looking at him with an eyebrow quirked, "That it? Why didn't you hang around for the cops?"

"I had a delivery to make here to the SIU."

"What kind of delivery?" Kohanek pressed.

Xander glanced at Nash for a moment, "Uh, I'm not sure-"

Nash cut him off. "It's ok Xander, Frank knows about the local 'nightlife'."

Xander just nodded, "I was dropping off some medical supplies for the night missions here at the SIU."

Frank nods once, dawning comprehension forming on his face. "Ok. I'll handle the report. Do you have any thing else to tell me?"

Xander looks at the group with indecision on his face, "Yes. I think. Look, this punk loaded his shotgun with dragon's breath shells."

The assembled cops looked on in shock as Xander drew a handful of shells from his pocket, "I've never seen this make before, but they are definitely dragon's breath shells."

"So this punk was a hunter?" Nash looked confused.

"No, I don't think so," Xander shook his head, "I checked the place out and didn't find any bodies, so that would mean the vamp would actually have to be working a night job." Xander snorted, "Not likely. No, I don't think the clerk was a vamp."

"You don't think?" Joe was surprised, "How can you be sure?"

"Her eyes." Xander said simply, "I've been dealing with those demonic pieces of crap for close to four years now. I've never seen this... purity... of emotion in the eyes of a vampire, she was terrified. When a vamp gets scared a sizable portion of the emotion gets shunted into anger and hatred, but the clerk... She wasn't angry, she didn't hate me or even the punk with the shotgun. She was just so scared."

Kohanek had an odd expression on his face, "So your certain that it wasn't a vampire?"

Xander nodded, "Yeah, I'm sure. Vamps can look pitiful with the best of them, but pure terror? I've never seen it, and I don't think its possible. She was just going to let that guy shoot her, and when I had the shotgun she was the same. Demons are too angry to allow something like that, they will always try to fight back, I don't think they can help it."

The other nodded silently, accepting the boy's word on the matter. No one noticed the thoughtful look on Kohanek's face as he closed his notebook and stood up.

"Well, thanks for the information. I'll handle the report, good luck kid."

Xander stood up and shook the detectives hand, "Thanks detective, good luck yourself. It's a scary world out there." Xander finished with a grin.

Frank looked somewhat abashed, "tell me about it kid, tell me about it."

*****

Frank hit the auto-dial on his cell phone as soon as he exited the SIU's headquarters.

"Frank?"

"Yeah Julian, its me."

"Was he there?"

"Yeah. I've got some bad news for you."

Julian's voice dropped, "What is it?"

"I'm pretty sure this guy is one of those hunters from Sunnydale."

"What!?" Frank winced as he held the phone away from his ear.

"It gets worse. That punk Gangrel you told me about was packing a dragon's breath shotgun. He recognized it."

Julian's voice was calmer this time, "Yes, I expected that much. Why didn't he investigate harder though?"

Luna's question sounded rhetoric but Frank answered it anyway, "The Toreador clerk you told me about. He said that he didn't see any demonic influences in her eyes. Something about her emotions being different from anything he'd seen in those vamps you call the 'empty ones'."

Julian was silent for along moment, "That is a very... perceptive person."

"Or a very naive one." Frank couldn't resist getting in a jab at Luna.

To his surprise Julian Luna chuckled over the line, "Perhaps your right Detective. Thank you for your help."

"Your welcome Julian. Good bye now."

Frank sighed and snapped his cell phone shut as he unlocked the door to his car and got in.

*****

Across town, Julian Luna stared at the wall for several long moments before reaching for his telephone again.

*****

Back at Nash's desk the conversation had continued.

"Helluva night last night from the sounds of it kid." Joe was grinning.

Xander shrugged, his face becoming a little grimmer. "You don't know the half of it. I was in L.A. last night with a street crew hunting vamps, damn bloodsuckers attacked the gang's warehouse hangout. They were packing Kevlar vests."

Nash and Joe looked at each other a moment before it sank in. "Shit." They both said at the same time.

Xander nodded in agreement, "Exactly. I got really lucky, especially considering they had a rifle team with them."

"Rifle..? Your van." Nash said with understanding.

"Exactly. A half dozen vamps with M16's can really ruin your day."

"Jesus."

"After that we raided the nest. Lets just say I've spent better nights."

The two SIU veterans looked at each other for a moment before looking back at Xander with concerned looks on their faces. They had both seen the inside of a vampire nest, and they knew what Harris was talking about.

"Listen, kid..." Nash started.

Xander waved a hand and cut him off, "I'll deal. I've seen more horrifying things in my life, I've even seen sicker things in my life. I knew this one vamp... well, lets not get into him. It was just... the senselessness of the fact. They hadn't even fed on them... Just tortured them to hear the screams."

Both cops looked sickened by the thought, but Xander just continued. "You know, that's the thing about the vamps that really gets to me. I don't mind the feeding, even the killing. They're just predators. Sure they're dangerous ones that need to be put down, but that's just animal behavior, Its nothing personal. Turning people is the same thing, its just a way to continue the population. But the shit I saw last night..." Xander trailed off and shook his head, "They all gotta die man."

Nash looked at the kid in front of him, the kid with the cold eyes and the calm voice, and could only think of one thing to say. "Amen to that brother."

*****

It was after midday before Xander left the SIU, mostly because the vampire hunters working out of there kept drawing him into conversations about their patrols and 'war stories'. All things considered, it was an interesting way to spend the morning.

Patches had been waiting for him by the van when he got back, and the two of them were soon caterwauling dangerously off key to the tunes on the radio while Xander guided the Van downtown.

*****

"You sure this is the place?" Tommy was looking over the crowded promenade, watching the people as they went about their business.

"Yes I'm sure." Scarlet sounded exasperated, "for the fifth time. Xander will be here soon."

Snake Eyes remained silent as his eyes scanned the crowd, looking for anyone out of place. He smiled a moment later when he spotted the grinning face approaching their table. As Xander came closer he reached out and tapped his wife's shoulder, pointing her in the direction of the approaching teen.

"Hey guys! Been too long."

"Speak for yourself kid, Last time you showed up we found ourselves tracking down Dracula's ashes. Before that we had to take on a demon in the middle of L.A., and the time before THAT we found out that vampires were real. I'm not even going to think about the really weird missions." Tommy sounded disgusted, "We generally blame it all on St. Wolf, but frankly I think all you Section Seven people are jinxed."

Xander laughed as he grabbed a chair and dropped into it at the table. "Don't lay the blame on me Tommy, it was Scarlet and her hubby there that chose a route through Sunnydale. No one leaves that town the same as they entered it."

Scarlet glared at him, but her eyes were dancing with humor. Beside her, her husband was chucking silently, a fact that quickly earned him a shot to the ribs from his wife.

"Anyway," Xander continued before he could start laughing at the look in the poor man's eyes. "I come bearing gifts."

With that Xander passes the hard case across the table to Tommy.

"What's this?"

Xander grins, and shakes his head, "Third time in two days I go through this."

With that comment Xander starts explaining both the gift and its value to the three Ninjas. They accept the whole situation at face value with no comment and little enough emotion. Xander grinned again and shook his head. <The Immortals accepted it fairly well, but they were used to weird stuff. It took me three times to explain it to Nash and Joe. But this group, they just accept the whole spiel without comment. I wonder if its the Ninja deal or the fact that they were Covert Ops?>

Xander shrugged off the thought and waved over a waitress. "Hey, yeah, can I get a cheeseburger special and a coke please?"

The Ninja's made their orders as well and they and Xander settled down to enjoy conversation between colleagues.

*****

"Casey, its Xander."

"Xander! Glad you made it to 'Frisco." Casey paused, "You did make it to 'Frisco right?"

"You bet Case. But look..." Xander trailed off, "I'm not sure if our little get together is such a good idea tonight."

Ryback sounded concerned when he came back, "Why? What's wrong?"

"Just a bad feeling Casey, but I think someone's tailing me. I had some troubles in L.A. last night."

"Tell me." Casey's voice was quiet, almost a whisper, but it brooked no argument.

Xander sighed into the cell phone and related the events of the past twenty four hours to the former SEAL in quick, clipped, military terms. He trusted the man to understand faster and more with less words then just about anyone else he knew, Steve excepted.

"Ok, the way I see it you need some help." The words sounded like advice but Xander could tell that he wasn't going to get away with a choice in the matter, "So I'll meet you tonight at the House of Soul as planned,"

Xander immediately tried to interrupt only to find Casey a step ahead.

"Alone. I'll let Tanya know what's up and leave her with her parents."

Xander sighed, "Look Casey, I don't want to cause you trouble on the home front."

The Navy SEAL laughed, a dry whispery sound. "If I didn't help you either my fiancé or my in-laws would kill me in the morning. That's assuming that Cordelia doesn't get to me first, and I'm not dumb enough to take bets against that."

Xander quickly smothered a chuckle of his own as he accepted the help being forced on him with as much grace as he could muster. Being typically Xander that was a good deal less grace then he would have liked.

*****

House of Soul, San Francisco
27 December, 1998 - 19:30 PST

Xander walked into the House of Soul, his face impassive as the hidden scanners passes silently over him. He had to hand it to Domino, his people were good. If Steve hadn't let him in on that detail Xander doubted he would have noticed the unobtrusive electronics.

As he took his seat he nodded his head slightly at Domino, who was up on stage belting out a heavy tune to the distinct pleasure of the crowd. <Gotta be nice, man has a good outlet to relax after his 'night job'. Too bad I never had any musical talent to speak of.>

Xander watched as a black man he hadn't met before poked his head out and frantically signaled to Domino. When the man pointed in his direction Xander caught the exchange and smiled to himself when Johnny shook off the man's warning. <Nice to be among friends, especially professional friends.>

Xander was sipping at a tall coke when he saw Casey enter the club, looking distinctly out of place for some reason. Xander grinned when his military memories filled in the reason. Casey was moving like he was on patrol, scouting hostile territory. Xander wondered momentarily if anyone had noted the same thing about him when he walked in.

"Hey Case."

Casey returned the greeting as he grabbed a chair and sat down. Xander glanced up in amusement when the black guy popped back out and waved frantically to Johnny Domino.

"What are you packing Casey?"

Ryback looked at him strangely, "Not much, a couple Beretta's with demon killer rounds, half dozen extra clips of wood and silver. Couple knives, an Ingram, and a few wooden blades Steve gave me. Why?"

Xander grinned, "Well between you and me I think we're giving the guy monitoring the security scanners a heart attack."

Ryback glanced around quickly, "Security? What the hell?"

"Relax, I chose this place for more then the ambience. In fact, here comes one of the reasons now."

Xander pushed his chair back and stood in greeting to Johnny Domino, who had just finished his set and figured he'd better check on the people causing Raleigh's anxiety attacks.

"Xander." Johnny reached across and grabbed the kids pre-offered hand, "Good to see you again. Better circumstances I hope?"

Xander grinned at the look on Casey's face, "Yeah, no Dracula resurrection this time."

Casey shook his head disgustedly, "You have been around St. Wolf WAY to damn long kid."

Xander and Johnny laughed easily for a moment before simply grinning at the look on Casey's face.

"So, Xander, who's your friend?"

"Johnny, this is Casey Ryback. He's a fellow hunter, but I'm sure that your friend back there already communicated that to you." Xander said with a grin.

"Yeah, Raleigh looks like he's having a stroke." Johnny chuckled.

The group smiled and sipped their drinks as the band started up a solo set.

*****

He walked into the night club thirty minutes after his target, hoping for a shot at the young man without the support system he seemed to attract. <No such luck. He's already got two people with him. What is it with this kid? I've tracked him from L.A. and every time he stops he winds up with a support crew around him.>

The man grabbed a table across the room from the kid, carefully sitting so he was facing the stage with the target clearly visible in the corner of his eye. Since L.A. he had taken a serious dislike to the kid's 'friends'. The first group he teamed up with turned out to be an Immortal Swat Team that hunted vamps and demons in L.A., a fact that still sent shivers up the man's spine. He unconsciously rubbed his neck when he thought of how close he came to discovery finding out that little tidbit of information. Between that first group, the Street thugs, and the SIU the man was seriously wondering if the pay on this job was enough.

He sighed, <A job is a job. Just need a way to cull the kid from his allies. Hmmm... Maybe I can use his allies instead?>

With that thought in mind the man finishes up his drink and quickly leaves the club.

*****

Xander leans over the table in concern when he sees Johnny zone out for a moment.

"Are you all right?"

Johnny didn't hear the question, his mind was a blur of images. He could see a stranger with angry eyes shooting Xander with a large pistol, the blood flowing across the young man's chest as he dropped to his knees. Then came the sword. The man swung the blade across the boy's neck. Johnny winced as his vision turned to red.

"Johnny! Man! Come on, snap out of it!"

Johnny Domino shook his head clear and stood up quickly, his eyes scanning the room. <Where is he?>

Xander was at his side in an instant, his hands less then an inch from the Beretta riding on his hip. "Come on Johnny, what is it?"

Johnny starting moving across the room, beckoning Xander and Casey to follow him. "I'm looking for someone. Follow me."

Xander and Casey glanced at each other in concern but followed the tall man through the crowd to a door that led to the back.

*****

"Raleigh!"

Johnny barged in, startling the man Xander had seen earlier. "Jeez Johnny, what the hell do you think your doing? They can't come in here!"

"Relax. They're friends. I need you to run the security cameras back a few minutes. I'm looking for someone I tuned into."

Raleigh gulped and nodded, running the digital image back until Johnny stopped him. "There. Thats the guy."

"What about him John?" Xander was confused.

Johnny looked grim, "I saw him shoot you kid, and then he took out a sword and lopped your head off."

Xander and Casey glanced at each other, confused and wary looks on their faces. Casey was the first to speak, "Uh... He didn't say anything did he?"

Johnny started to reply but Raleigh interrupted him. "Whoa. Hold on, You guy's are taking this at face value?" He turned to Johnny, concerned, "How many people have you been telling about yourself?"

Xander cut in, "He didn't tell us anything. Don't have a clue how he saw anything, but its far from the weirdest thing I've seen this year... or this week for that matter."

Raleigh looked from Casey to Xander before responding, "Right. Ok. I think I'm going to need an example."

Xander looked at Raleigh and shrugged, "Well, yesterday a character from a Shakespeare play gave me a Masterson Assault Cannon for Christmas."

Raleigh just stared at him, his face alternating from shock and disbelief. "A... a... a Masterson? I worked on that project. It was cancelled years ago... We couldn't figure out a way to pack enough ammo into the damn thing to make it practical."

Xander looked at Johnny with a smirk on his face, "You do notice that he completely skipped over the part about it being a character from a Shakespeare play that gave it to me right?"

Johnny grinned, "That's Raleigh. Mention something technical and everything else goes out the window.

Casey finally tried to steer the conversation back to something relevant. "Now, about this guy you saw, did he say anything?"

Johnny looked confused, "What would he say?"

Casey looked at Xander with a slight amount of distrust, "Oh I don't know... how about 'There can be only one'?"

Xander looked at him in shock, his jaw working but his mouth refusing to cooperate.

Johnny saved him the trouble of responding, "Uh. No. He didn't say anything. Especially not that."

Xander finally managed to find his voice to reply in a weak voice. "Good."

*****

Xander was still shooting horrified glares at Casey when they left, much to the the SEAL's amusement. "That wasn't funny Casey."

"What?" Casey tried like hell to sound innocent, but failed miserably.

Xander's glare intensified as the Ex-SEAL laughed it off and changed the subject. "Look, Kid, what are you planning on doing now?"

"Not sure really." Xander's reply was candid, "I had planned on heading back to Sunny-D, I figured that I lost the bastard back in L.A. But now? With what Johnny said I think I'll hang around town for tonight. Maybe tempt fate a little."

Casey almost smiled at the kids words but stopped when he remembered the same words and sentiments coming out of the mouths of other young men. Ones who didn't survive the rather dangerous hobby of 'tempting fate'. "All right kid, if your sure then I'm with you on this one."

"No, go home to your fiance Casey. I told the Shadow Clan that I'd patrol with them tonight if I decided to stay in town. I'll call if I get a lead on this guy."

Casey looked undecided, "Look kid, I don't know. You're in a tough spot and..."

Xander cut him off with a wave of his hand, "Come on Case, I'm gonna be hanging with a bunch of Ninja's, what can go wrong?"

Casey shot him such a disgusted look that Xander broke out laughing, "I promise man, the first time I get a hint that this guy is in the neighborhood I call you."

Casey reluctantly agreed and Xander reached out and clapped his friend on the shoulder as the two of them headed back to their vehicles.

*****

He watched them split up and head for their vehicles, walking confidently through the shadowy lot. He knew better then to mess with either of them here, even with surprise he'd have to face at least one fully prepared warrior.

He left the target and concentrated on his companion, trusting those he had hired to keep him apprised of the targets movements. He quickly noted the license number and tapped it into his laptop system.

<Casey Ryback, Retired Navy Chef... hmmm, that could explain the military movements I suppose. He's applied for a marriage license... to a Tanya Romanov.>

*****

The lot was large and remarkably empty, only Xander, his van, and his cat filling the expanse. Xander found it quite remarkable actually, even in Sunnydale a place like this would be occupied by someone or something at all times of night. But standing in the middle of the lot Xander could see nothing for a hundred feet in every direction.

"Hey kid."

"Shit!" Xander almost jumped out of his skin. Spinning he saw the Shadow Clan leaning against the van. "Don't DO that!"

Tommy grinned, "Sorry."

Xander took an involuntary step toward the smirking Ninja muttering under his breath, "Sorry my ass."

Tommy grin widened as he raised his hands in supplication, "You ready to patrol?"

Xander stopped and took a breath, "Yeah. Lets do this."

As the group moved out Xander half turned to the Ninja's, "I don't suppose you could teach me to do that?"

"Only if you want to learn."

Xander grinned, <why is it everyone keeps saying that to me?>, "Let's talk."

*****

Casey Ryback and his fiancé strolled into their hotel, arm in arm. Tanya could feel the tension in her soon to be husband's arm however, and was worried about him.

"What's wrong Casey?"

Casey sighed, "I'm worried about the kid. I shouldn't have left him."

Tanya smiled, she loved this man for many reasons but this was one of the important ones. He protected his friends. "Xander will be alright. You told me yourself that he was patrolling with an armed force. Ex special forces I believe you mentioned?"

Casey tried to relax as they got in the elevator. "Yeah, I know. But I still feel like I should be there."

The two let the Elevator reach its destination in silence, each trying to find a way to break the tension of the evening. When the chime sounded and the door opened they stepped out lightly. As the doors slid shut behind them the hairs on Casey's neck stood on end, his combat sense going off as a group of menacing figures appeared at the end of the hall.

*****

It had been a slow night on patrol, the group and managed to nail less then a dozen vamps at the normal hunting grounds.

"Quiet."

Xander turned at the sound of the voice, "Christ, Scarlet, I asked you guys to stop doing that!"

The woman grinned, "Sorry, bad habit."

"Yeah well, I tend to stuff my face with Twinkies every chance I get but you don't see me bringing them along on patrol do you?" Xander muttered under his breath.

Scarlet just grinned at him, unrepentant. She shrugged, "Like I said, quiet. We usually get almost twice as many when we pass through here. Wonder where they all are?"

Xander shrugged, "No clue. It's a big city though, could be the word is spreading that this a place to avoid?"

"Maybe, but we don't hit this place that often... couple times a month, maybe more if we're lucky. Like you said, it's a big city, even with the SIU it takes time to cover it."

"Yeah."

Xander cursed quietly as his cell phone starting ringing, grabbing it he answered, "Yo."

"Xander? This is Johnny. Is you friend with you?" Johnny sounded tense.

"No man, why? He headed home."

Xander tensed up as Johnny cursed quietly over the phone. "What is it Johnny?"

"I had another vision Xander, I saw him getting attacked by a group of vampires in what looked like a hotel hallway."

Now it was Xander's time to curse as he quickly rattled off Casey's hotel address to Johnny as he sprinted for his van.

"Xander!"

"No time guys, friend of mine is in some deep trouble!"

By the time he hit the van the Shadow Clan Ninjas had already started to pile in, Scarlet grabbing shotgun as the rest settled down in the back.

"What are you waiting for kid? Let's get going!"

<Shit. I love having friends like this.>

"Buckle up if you can, and watch your feet for my cat." Xander called as he put the pedal down, ripping the van out into the late night traffic of San Francisco.

*****

The fight was short, despite the best efforts of Casey and his wife to be, over a dozen vampires versus two humans wasn't much of a match.

Or so the vampires thought.

Casey caught the first two by surprise, his Ingram spitting silver death from fifteen feet away. He aimed automatically for the head, not taking a chance on the chest from what Xander had told him earlier, and was rewarded by the sight of two dusted vamps.

The rest were nearly on top of him when he adjusted his aim to dust another three. <Damn things are fast!>

As they got closer he felt Tanya tug one of his Beretta's from it's holster. He smiled as he fisted the second Beretta, dropping the Ingram as it emptied, and fired into the advancing horde. Beside him he could hear Tanya's pistol firing in a well spaced, and calm, pattern. <Good girl.>

The last Five vamps closed the gap, using their unfortunate friends as cover. Casey's pistol was batted from his hands, even as he heard Tanya yell in terror.

<No!>

Casey tossed the first vamp, easily turning his own momentum against him. The second one went down with a shattered arm when Casey intercepted a punch and decided to show the arm an entirely new range of motion.

The third vamp grabbed him from behind, forcing Casey to twist hard in the embrace so that he was facing the demonic visage. He brought his arms up, and clapped the vampires ears, shattering the demons eardrums in a practiced move. When the vampire dropped him Casey struck him twice across the face and grabbed his shirt to toss him aside.

That was when the vampire struck out at him, throwing Casey through a closed door and into one of the rooms, leaving him unconscious and still clutching the shredded fabric of the vamps shirt tightly in one hand.

"Damn it!, This shirt cost me a fortune!"

"You actually *pay* for your clothes?"

"Shut up. Let's grab him while he's out."

Both vampires tried to enter the room to grab Casey but were stopped at the threshold. "Aw crap!"

"Now what?" the second vamp asked, "We were supposed to grab them both!"

"Forget him! He's too much trouble anyway. We've got her, she'll have to do."

The remaining vampires turned and dragged the unconscious form of Tanya Romanov toward the elevator.

*****

Paul Sherei was having a pretty lousy night. He'd been called in on his day off to cover for a clerk who was in the hospital due to an encounter with a jealous husband and things had gone steadily downhill from there. Aside from the standard annoyances he had to deal with, cranky and drunken guests being the least of them, the hotel had been raided by more then a dozen gang members less then ten minutes ago.

He surveyed the shattered remains of the hotel lobby, wondering how he was going to explain the destruction to his supervisor, and shook his head. No one was dead, thank god, but several of the guests were injured when they tried to stop four of the gang from leaving with a hostage. Paul looked to the elevator with fear in his eyes, over a dozen had gone up earlier, pretending to be visiting a friend. And only four came back, he hoped that the rest left by the back otherwise the destruction wasn't over yet.

At just about the point he had started to relax the lobby doors burst open and a small group of men and women rushed into the room, weapons drawn and ready. The man in the lead couldn't have been more then eighteen, if that, but he was moving through the injured people as if he saw that scene every day. The rest were older, and moving the same way.

<A SWAT Team? They got here fast.> Paul stayed in his crouch as the lead man barely glanced at the injuries on his way past, snapping fast commands to the people behind him as he headed for the elevators.

"Scarlet, take a couple of your people and see to the injured. Anyone else, we're going up."

*****

Xander watched the numbers above the elevator door slowly count up to the eighth floor, forcing an outward calm to cover the anxiety that was ripping him apart inside. On one side of him Snake Eyes was standing much the same way, the only outward sign of distress was his eyes, they were cold and hard. Tommy was standing calmly on the other side, his face relaxed in an expression of almost boredom. Xander might have been angry with that kind of reaction a year ago, but he had more experience now and he recognized the intensity below the surface.

When the doors opened the three warriors found themselves looking at the remnants of a battle few people on the planet would comprehend. The floor was littered with almost a dozen distinct piles of dust, scattered along half the length of the hallway. The piles began at the elevator and ended at the shattered remains of a door. The three warriors quickly spotted an Ingram and two Beretta's scattered across the hallway, lying where they had been knocked from their owners hands.

"Shit." Tommy's reaction was succinct. "How many people were here?"

Xander didn't answer right away as he rushed to the shattered door and headed into the room, "Two I'd say. Casey and his fiance."

Snake Eyes and Tommy looked at each other, a volume of information passing between them in an instant.

"My kind of couple."

Snake Eyes merely nodded at his partners observation.

*****

Casey was sprawled in the wreckage of a small coffee table when Xander rushed through the door. The ex navy SEAL didn't look like he had moved in quite some time, causing Xander to cautiously start checking the man for injuries.

"Come on Casey, wake up man."

<No obvious bones broken. Tons of bruising though, he's gonna be sore come morning.> Xander glanced back at the shattered door, his mind already figuring out how Casey had survived the attack.

"Come on Squid! Just cause those vamps tossed you in here don't mean your on leave."

Casey's head moved slightly and long low groan sounded through the room, "Who are you calling Squid, beany boy?"

Xander's mocking tone dropped instantly when his friend regained consciousness, changing to a concerned tone. "Casey, do you remember what happened?"

Casey's eyes were blank for a long moment, before they snapped open and the man suddenly forced his way to his feet, "Tanya! Where is she?"

Xander's face and voice was grim, "We don't know. I was hoping that she wasn't with you."

"Oh shit. she was. she was. I've got to find her." Casey moved to leave the room but Xander intercepted him. "get out of my way kid."

"Screw that. We'll find her, but we've got to handle this right, man. Team has a better chance, trust me."

Casey calmed himself, He was a SEAL, and that was what being in the 'Teams' was all about. Trust. <And by god, he may just be a kid but I trust him.>

*****

Nightman circled the building once before sweeping down to the front door and pushing his way through the crowd that was forming. He didn't have much time, the cops would be here soon, but he figured that Xander and his friend deserved whatever help he could give them.

"Nightman!"

Johnny turned to source of the yell, "Scarlet, how have you been?"

"We've been better. Xander's on the eighth floor, you heading up?"

Nightman nodded once.

"Tell him that we're pulling out now. These people will be all right but we don't want to answer the questions the cops are going to be asking."

"Understood." Nightman swept through the lobby, ignoring the stares from the people congregated there.

*****

"What's this?" Xander knelt down and picked up the piece of cloth that Casey had been clenching in his fist when they found him.

Casey looked at it for along moment, trying to recall memories from the heat of battle. "It's a scrap of cloth from a vamps shirt. Same bastard who chucked me through the door."

Xander eyed it thoughtfully for a moment before closing his own fist around it and pocketing the small scrap of fabric.

"Xander?"

Xander turned around, in time to see Nightman sweep into the room, "Hey Nightman."

"What happened?"

"My friend's fiance was grabbed by some vampires. Can you spare the time tonight to help us search?"

"Absolutely." Nightman's voice was firm, and his face set.

"Thanks. Go with Tommy and Snake Eyes, start checking the usual sources. See if anyone has been dropping names at the local demon hangouts. Casey, you go with them. I have a lead I'm going to follow up, but the people I'm going to see are the private type."

Casey nodded reluctantly, accepting Xander's word on the matter as he joined the Shadow Clan Ninja's and the Nightman on their way out the door. Xander looked around the room one last time before striding over the splintered door and heading down the hallway himself.

*****

Outside the Halliwell Manor, San Francisco
28 December, 1998 - 00:21 PST

Xander stopped the van along a deserted street beside an elegant old manor house. He glanced out the side window up at the darkened house, and grimaced at the thought of disturbing the sleeping people. Shrugging he reached for his cell phone when a sudden flash of light from the house caught his attention. While he was staring a blast blew the front doors clear off the house and rained debris down on the van.

"Holy...!" Xander couldn't quite find the word to finish the thought.

//Cow.// Patches finished for him.

Shaking off the shock Xander rolled out of the drivers seat and pealed the panels off the walls of the van. <Residential area. Keeping it quiet is probably out of the question now, but I'd better use a silenced weapon anyway.>

Grabbing the MP5-SD6 and plenty of demon killer clips he shrugged on his coat, slid open the side door, and hopped out of the van.

<Coming kitty cat?>

Patches voice was surprised, as he chased his charge toward the house. //You want me involved here? Won't there be witnesses?//

Xander was already halfway up the drive, Patches on his heals. <I figured you'd want to meet the charmed ones.>

//Charmed Ones?!?!? The most powerful white witches in history?//

Xander grinned as he hit the doorstep, <Yep.>

//Wow.//

*****

"Freeze it Piper!"

"I'm trying!"

Piper Halliwell waved her hands at the demon attacking her younger sister, but was frustrated to see it immediately fight off the effects in a disturbingly comical display of slow motion action.

"You're powers are worthless against mine, witch."

The demon reached out for Phoebe's throat when it suddenly staggered under the impact of bullets from the doorway. The three sisters turned to look at the figure advancing through the wreckage of their foyer with an automatic weapon snug against his shoulder. He was covered in black, his face obscured by the position of his weapon and the muzzle flashes as he pelted the demon with bullets.

"Phoebe, hit the dirt!"

Phoebe reacted to the order, even though she didn't recognize the voice that gave it. Diving for the ground, just under the demons outstretched arms, she managed to roll clear of the fight and get back to her sisters.

"Patches, that's your cue!"

The three witches looked at each other and silently mouthed the same word. <Patches?>

To the shock of the demon and the three witches a huge saber tooth tiger appeared out of nowhere and charged the demon as the man dropped into a crouch and reloaded his weapon.

The three sisters watched in shock as the huge cat tangled with the demon, keeping too close for the monster to unleash its energy blasts. The demon's muscles bulged as he struggled to keep the guardian spirit's teeth away from his throat.

Prue snapped out of her shock and snapped out an order to her sisters. "Piper, Phoebe, the vanquishing spell! Get the components!"

The two sisters rushed off to the kitchen for the materials they needed to complete their spell while their older sister, Prue, began using her power to hurtle pieces of furniture at the demon whenever she got a clear shot.

"Patches! Down! Cover them!"

The cat suddenly disengaged, leaping clear of the demonic figure and positioning itself between the demon and the door leading to the kitchen. As Prue stepped up her attacks she saw the figure in the doorway open fire again.

Obviously in pain the demon managed to hold his ground against the onslaught of bullets and random items that continued to pelt his position. Roaring he snapped his arms out and fired a bright blue blast of energy toward the doorway.

*****

Xander saw the blast coming for him between the flashes of his MP5 and decided not to test his coat's protection against an unknown blast. Unfortunately, caught in the narrow foyer as he was, he didn't have many options left open to him.

He never considered retreating, instead he chose a more direct approach. Leaping forward from a standing start he cleared the energy blast and emptied the rest of his clip into the demon in mid air. As the slide locked back on an empty chamber halfway through his jump he tossed the weapon to one side and reached for Deathstalker.

*****

Prue forced back a scream when she saw the force blast hurtle toward the figure in the foyer. She desperately tried batting it away with her powers but couldn't manage to get a grip on the demonic energy. She watched helpless as the bright energy bolt flew across the room, only to be shocked as the target leaped over the energy and continued his attack on the demon.

The man tossed his gun away in mid air and tucked into a tight ball, flipping clear over the energy blast, and landing solidly on his feet. His hand slowly appeared from behind his back, a wicked sword slowly becoming visible from under his long coat. Prue watched, stunned, as the man calmly brought the blade up into an en-guard position.

The blade suddenly burst into flames, the flickering light exposed the grim lines of the man's face as he grinned humorlessly at the seven foot tall demon. "Man-o a man-o then."

Prue started at the identity of the man helping them. "Xander?"

*****

Xander widened his stance as he drew the blade from the sheath under his coat, mentally prodding the faery fire enchantment on the blade and grinning at the imposing demonic figure.

"Man-o a man-o then."

With that he lunged at the demon, whipping the sword in a fast slash at its neck, only to be blocked when the demon raised its arms and intercepted the sword on its armored forearms. Xander reversed his motion and dropped low to the ground, spinning the blade back in the opposite direction and swiping at his targets legs.

When the demon just hopped over the blade as it passed Xander continued the spin, straightening up and extending his foot into a vicious kick that took the demons folded legs out from underneath him, and sent the creature spinning in mid air.

*****

Prue actually winced at the sound Zaraf made when his spinning body hit the ground, the demon's head snapping into the hardwood floor of the manor, <that HAD to hurt.>

*****

Xander didn't give the demon a chance to recover, stepping forward quickly he grasped his sword in both hands and stabbed it down into the prone demon. As the demon screamed in pain Xander gritted his teeth and twisted the blade.

Suddenly the demon lashed out with a foot, connecting with Xander's thigh, and sent him flying across the room. The demon regained his feet and hissed in pain as it slowly pulled Deathstalker from its chest.

"You'll pay for that boy."

*****

Phoebe and Piper rushed back out of the kitchen in time to see the demon send the man across the room in a rather unceremonious way. Rushing forward they almost tripped over a very agitated Sabertooth tiger standing guard at the door.

"Oh. oh. big cat. BIG cat." Piper stared nervously at Patches.

"Nice kitty, we have to get by now." Phoebe started edging by, dragging her sister with her.

"Prue! we have the potion!"

Prue snapped her head around, "Its about time! Throw it already!"

Piper's hand snapped out, tossing a small glass vial at the feet of the demon. As the glass shattered, a pink mist formed and rose to cover the demon's body and the three witches began chanting.

By mist and spell
by word and will
return powers gotten ill
by the power of three we cast thee out
By this spell, we return you to hell.

*****

Xander was already moving to get up when he noticed the spell kick into effect, he painfully got back to his feet and limped back toward the conflict in case he was needed. He could have saved himself the trouble, the demon let out an unearthly howl and *dissolved* into the floor. Xander breathed a sigh of relief when Deathstalker fell from the dying demon's hands and thumped heavily to the floor. He limped over slowly and pickup up his sword, and grinned tiredly at the three sisters.

"Well, that was fun."

*****

Xander absently scratched Patches behind the ears as he stared at what was left of the Manor's front door. "Wow. Why'd he do that anyway?"

Prue blushed, her fear of the big cat temporarily forgotten, "He didn't. I did."

Xander's head snapped around to look at her, a lopsided grin on his face. "Really? Remind me not to piss you off then." He paused thoughtfully for a second, "On second thought, if your aim is that bad maybe I'd be safer if I did piss you off."

Phoebe laughed out loud, coming forward to pet Patches herself. "You've got that much right. Now Xander, introduce me to your friend."

Xander chuckled, "Phoebe, this is Patches. Patches, this is Phoebe Halliwell, one of the Charmed Ones."

Piper looked nervous as her sister got closer to the tiger, "Phoebe I don't think that's a good idea..."

"Oh lighten up Piper, if Xander trusts him he's ok."

Patches leaned into Phoebe's hand as she scratched his side. //I like it here.//

"I don't care if you do like it here you little suck, we have a job to do remember?" Xander looked pointedly at the door.

//Oh... Yeah.// Patches reluctantly moved away from Phoebe and headed over to the door, changing into his normal form along the way.

Phoebe stared at the retreating cat, "Wha?"

"It sounded like you were answering him." Prue looked after the cat, fascinated.

"I was, we're bonded. Sort of a mind meld deal," Xander smiled, "He's a Guardian Spirit, and a good friend. He's as smart as I am."

//Hey!// Patches sounded scandalized.

Xander whipped his head around and snapped at the cat, "Oh shut up! That wasn't an insult!"

The three witches snickered loudly as Xander turned progressively redder.

"A guardian what?" Piper came a little closer now that the big cat was a little cat.

Xander sighed, "Sorry, look I don't have time to explain much right now. I came to ask Phoebe if she could help me."

"Me? How can I help?"

Xander pulled a piece of cloth from a pocket and held it out to Phoebe, "I was hoping that you might be able to get a vision off this. It's a scrap of cloth from a vampire who kidnaped a friend of mine."

Phoebe reached out tentatively for the cloth, the moment she touched it her eyes slammed shut and her head jerked as the vision washed over her. When they opened again she looked at Xander with a serious gleam in her eyes.

"I know where they took her." Phoebe looked at Xander in concern, "and Xander? They grabbed her to get information about you."

Xander digested that for a long moment before responding, "I'm going to need your help with some things if you don't mind."

*****

Xander ducked out to the van and grabbed the laptop willow had given him as well as a small duffel that was tucked under the drivers seat. As he walked up the drive he stared at the remains of the front door and a thought struck him. He pulled his cell phone out and dialed the SIU.

"Special Investigation Unit, front desk speaking."

"Hello, is Inspector Bridges on duty?" Xander figured that he already knew the answer to that but it was worth a shot.

"No sir, he finished up his shift hours ago."

"Who's in charge right now?"

"Rick Bettina."

Xander had to search his memories for a second before he placed the name, "That'll be fine, please put me through to Rick." <Thank you, Robin, for the memory boost... and everything else.>

"One moment please."

It didn't take long before Bettina came on the line, "Hello?"

"Rick, it's Xander Harris. I don't know if you remember me-"

The man cut him off, "Of course I do, what can I do for you Mr. Harris?"

"Xander, please. Listen I have a situation here," Xander filled him on what happened.

"Gotcha, I'll have a couple detectives head out to the Halliwell's and take over the investigation."

"Thanks. Look, one of my friends was grabbed by our night loving friends. I got a lead on her location and I'm heading out soon, probably won't be here when your people arrive."

"Understood. You need help getting your friend?"

Xander considered it for a moment before responding, "No. I have several groups of friends working on this now. Thanks though."

"No problem kid. Do me a favor though, try to avoid wrecking my city."

Xander grinned, "I'll do what I can, thanks for the help."

*****

Inside the manor Xander noticed that Patches had picked up a friend. "Who's your pal kitty cat?"

Phoebe answered before the cat could respond, "That's Kit. She's been hanging around here for a couple years now."

//She's from New Salem, Xander, an unbonded spirit that Harkness sent to keep an eye on these three.//

Xander quirked his eyebrow and looked at the two cats, <Do they know?>

//No, they don't. And please don't tell them.//

Xander's head snapped around fast at the feminine voice in his head, <how?>

Patches cocked his head slightly, //I'm echoing her thoughts to you. She was sent to protect the Charmed Ones and to ensure they didn't stray from their path.>

Xander silently walked into the house, focusing on the mental conversation, <Why didn't she bond to them?>

Again the female voice echoed in his skull, //I'm also here to ensure that the power of three does not cross to the darkness.//

Xander winced, <And you can't do anything about it if you were bonded right?>

//No. A bonded Spirit may not harm her charge.//

Xander stopped and kneeled down to the small cat, <Listen to me very carefully Kit. If you harm one of these three without one hell of a good reason I'm coming back here to have a few words with you. I promise you that you won't enjoy the conversation.>

Patches backed off in shock, mentally stuttering over his words. //I... uh... he didn't mean...//

Kit cut him off, her tone serious, //Yes he did. And I understand why. Do not worry young one, I harbor neither him, nor you, any ill will.//

Xander nodded and straightened up, promising himself to have a word with Steve about the Lady Harkness. Turning back to the living room he spoke to Phoebe, "Do you have a place where I can draw a containment circle? I need to transport some equipment."

"Uh, sure... the basement?"

Xander nodded and motioned for her to lead the way.

*****

Phoebe watched as Xander pulled out a chalk duster and carefully drew a containment circle in the center of the basement. When he was done he opened up his laptop and accessed two files.

"Here are the spells I need you to cast, first this one." Xander said pointing to a text file.

Phoebe looked at the spell and nodded, a few moments later she stood up and focused her will on the words, chanting the spell over the circle.

Xander smiled as one of his Christmas gifts materialized in the center of the circle. Stepping carefully over the lines he picked up the large bulk of his Masterson Assault Cannon.

"That's a BIG gun."

Xander grinned at Prue, who was standing stunned on the stairs. "Friend of mine gave it to me yesterday. He goes all out for the holidays."

"I'll say." Phoebe stared at the huge weapon.

"Ok, spell number two please?"

Phoebe looked at the text and spoke the spell.

In the center of the circle two rifles, A Barrett .50 caliber and his AWP-308, as well as several boxes of ammunition appeared.

"Are we paranoid yet?" Phoebe stared at the armaments nervously.

Xander picked up the Barrett M82 and two cases of 50 caliber ammunition and shrugged, "The Masterson is for the main party, but these two are for the opening ceremonies. I'm going to get this stuff out to the van."

*****

With the sisters help he got the Van loaded in record time, carefully arranging the weapons in the back and covering them with a tarp the Haliwells had in their basement.

"We're coming with you."

Xander looked at the sisters, uncertain what to say. "Are you sure? Its going to be a rough one."

The three sisters just nodded.

"Ok, but you still need someone to greet the police when they arrive."

Piper was the one who answered, "Leo!"

Xander was startled when a shimmering of light suddenly appeared and deposited a man beside them, "What's up?"

"Leo, the cops are on their way. We need you to wait for them and let them know that we had to go help Xander here."

The man, Leo, turned to Xander and nodded. "Hi."

"Um... Hello." Xander shook his head, <I really shouldn't surprised by this sort of thing anymore.> "Look, only talk to the cops from the SIU. They already know what went down and their helping us keep it quiet. Got that?"

Leo looked at the sisters in shock, "The cops know about you?"

Phoebe somehow managed to look innocent as she replied, "Only the ones who hunt vampires."

Leo stared for a moment. "Ok. never mind. I'll handle it. If you need me, just shout."

"We will." Phoebe grinned as she headed for Prue's car.

*****

Xander maneuvered the van through the empty streets quickly, ignoring the posted limits. As he sped through a red light at a deserted intersection he reached down and activated the recessed radio, switching it to the tac channel he'd set up with Casey and the Shadow Clan earlier.

"Hey Squid, you hooked up?"

Casey's voice came back fast, slightly distorted by the scrambler. "Kid. Where the hell are you?"

"I'm heading out of town, they're holding her in a quarry about twenty miles north of here. I've got some backup coming with me but you guys better haul ass down there."

"Got it." It was usually tough to make out emotions over a scrambler but Casey's voice was hard, "I've called in Logan and Natasha. Nightman just left to do an aerial recon of the area. We'll be there in ten minutes."

"Affirm. Will meet you on site at following GPS coordinates." Xander then rattled off a series of numbers that corresponded to a small hill overlooking the top part of the quarry.

"Afirm. Will contact when we're five minutes out." Casey closed the link.

*****

Rock Quarry, 25 minutes north of San Francisco

1:38 AM, Dec 28, 1998

Xander and the Halliwells parked their vehicles on the far side of the small hill, opting to climb the embankment and get a better view of the situation. At the top Xander handed a powerful pair of night vision binoculars to the witches and set about setting up his M82.

"Uh oh. There are a lot of them there."

Xander ignored Phoebe while he powered up the large compound scope mounted on his rifle, waiting until the low whine indicated a charging sequence before he spoke. "Not surprising. If this guy has been watching me he's probably seen who I've been hanging out with lately. In his place I'd go for a paranoid version of security."

"Huh?" Prue looked up from the binoculars she had grabbed from Phoebe.

Xander smiled, "In the past forty eight hours I've teamed up with a dozen immortals, a vampire hunting street gang, an L.A. SWAT team, a navy SEAL, Nightman, and a Ninja Clan. On top of that I've met with a ton of cops. The guy can be forgiven for assuming the worst."

The sisters shook their heads at that and returned to examining the quarry.

Xander lowered his eyes to the scope and started tallying what he could see of the defenses below him. In Starlight mode he could see at least a dozen guards milling about, but few of them were armed. It was the infrared mode that was the eye opener, while there were many vampires among the guards he had spotted some appeared to be human.

<Damn. I so don't want to deal with human blood on my hands.> Xander's hands shake slightly for a moment before he locks down the sensation and steels himself. <No damn it. If they stand between us and Tanya then they go down. Its that simple.>

Beside him Patches listened to his charges thoughts but chose to keep his silence. He knew that anyone, human or demon, who stood between Xander and his friend would be fair game. But he also knew that Alexander Harris would bear guilt that wasn't his to carry if he had to harm a single human being.

*****

They had been observing for a few minutes when a sound from above caused Xander to spin over to his back, lifting the big .50 caliber rifle like an assault weapon and aiming it skyward. The armored figure that was rapidly descending just gave a small wave and a grin.

"Damn it J-" Xander glanced sideways at the three witches beside him and rapidly corrected his slip, "Nightman! I could have shot you."

Johnny Domino waved off the possibility with a grin, "I have more faith in your reflexes then that kid."

"Wise ass." Xander muttered under his breath, ignoring the coughing wheezes coming from the patchwork fur ball at his side. <Shut up you.>

Patches didn't answer for a long time while he caught his breath, <Sorry Xander, but I'm getting a kick out of all these people sneaking up on you.>

Xander growled low in his throat but didn't respond to the taunting feline.

Johnny watched Xander's eyes as they continued to flicker down at the small cat at his side. <I have got to be seeing things, or is that cat *laughing*?>

Johnny shook off the confusion, "I figured I'd let you know that the others should be her in a few minutes."

As if waiting for a cue the radio on Xander's hip chose that moment to crackle to life, "Hey Kid, this is your five minute warning."

Xander grinned at Nightman, shrugged, and acknowledged the signal.

"Lets get back to the vehicles shall we?"

*****

Ten minutes later the entire gang was crowded around the makeshift parking area Xander had chosen at the bottom of the hill.

Xander watched as Logan and Natasha got out of the lead vehicle, and winced as Logan slammed the door viciously behind him. Xander swallowed and took a deep breath as the muscular man stalked up to him.

Xander decided to make the first move and addressed both Natasha and Logan, "I'm sorry about this. I shouldn't have met with Casey tonight, but I didn't think that this bastard would start after my friends. I expected him to come after me."

The man called Wolverine growled low in his throat, his anger clouding his mind until Casey stepped up. "It's not the kid's fault. He tried to keep me from meeting with him, I forced the issue. You know as well as I do that we can't leave a friend in the lurch."

Natasha laid a hand on her husbands shoulder, calming him. "We don't blame either of you. Tanya knows the risks, both of being our daughter and of becoming involved with Casey. Right now we just have to get her back."

Xander nodded and turned to the small group of Shadowclan Ninja's, "Ok, we're going to need two snipers up on the hill. Tommy? Couple of yours?"

The ninja nods to two of Scarlet's brothers, former marine force recon snipers, who step forward.

"Good, I've got a Barrett M82 here, with five clips of silvertips and ten of soft tip hollow points. Save the silver in case we need cover from a demon, .50 caliber soft tips will decapitate a vampire just as well as a sword." Xander handed the rifle off to the closest man. "For a bit more precision here's my personal favorite, an AWP-308. Only got silver tips for this one though, so make your shots count."

The second man took the rifle and expertly stripped it down, checking the firing pin, magazine, and muzzle bore. He nodded back to Xander, accepting the rifle and ammunition. "Excellent weapon."

Xander smiled, "I know. You two head up now, Piper, could you show them the way?"

Piper nodded, and led the two brothers up the hill to the position she had staked out with Xander earlier.

"Ok, now that we have some cover from our two forward observers we can take some time and lay out a plan."

*****

They had barely started to pour over the maps they had when the radio demanded attention. "Xander? This is Piper... please answer."

Xander grabbed up the mic and called back, "Yes Piper? I'm here."

"There's a whole lot of vampires coming straight at you, their moving around the hill from both sides."

Xander cursed, "How the hell?"

The group snapped to work, grabbing up their weapons and moving into defensive positions. As the first hint of movement signaled the arrival of their foes Xander suddenly looked at his van and desperately fought the urge to slam his head into the door.

"Damnit! The damned van! He must've bugged the damned van!"

Xander slammed his fist into the sliding door, leaving another dent in the battered side of his vehicle. "I've had enough of this shit!" Xander growled as he suddenly hopped into the back of the van.

"Kid? Where the hell are you going?"

"Hold them off Casey, I'll be right with you!"

Casey shrugged and looked at the rest, "You heard him! Take those bastards out!"

The group opened fire on the advancing vampires, their first shots staggering the enemy but, for the most part, failing to have the desired effect. It was Casey who responded quickest, remembering what Xander had told him earlier he barked out a quick order. "Vests! They have vests! Silver tips and head shots only!"

The teams changed tactics quickly, but the delay had already allowed many of the vampires to close on their positions. Even so those closest soon began collapsing into dust as the combined fire decimated their lines. Soon Casey and the others were able to force the initial rush to take cover, though not before they managed to get a fast count of the opposition.

"Where the hell did they get so many of the bastards?"

Scarlett was quiet for a moment, "I think we know why we were finding so few vamps on patrol tonight."

Her husband looked grim, merely nodding his head in agreement. Hearing a noise he turned around and nudged his wife.

"Shit! Attention to our backs!"

The group turned in time to see an ambush team moving behind them.

Xander chose this moment to exit the van, "I'll handle them, keep an eye on the first team."

With that he strode forward and thumbed the firing mechanism on the Masterson Assault Cannon he was now wearing.

*****

Casey winced as his ears were assaulted by the whining roar of the Masterson, <Jesus. Where the hell did the kid get *that*?>

*****

Snake Eyes grinned as he saw the vampires run into a wall of fire laid down by Xander and his portable cannon. He shrugged off the question of where Xander got such a weapon and turned his attention back to the first team of vampires, trusting his back to his friend.

*****

Logan's smile was grim, he was itching for some closer action then it looked like he was going to get. <That old bastard must like this kid if he let him lay his hands on one of those.>

*****

Xander was grinning like a madman, he hadn't had a chance to play with this toy yet and it felt like the right time to give Robin's gift a proper christening. The twenty millimeter shells were annihilating vampires with brutal efficiency. <They may not be silver, wood, or magical, but sometimes simple, pure, and brutally massive trauma is all you really need.>

*****

Seth grinned, their targets were occupied with the first group, exactly as planned. <Once we get close this fight is all over.>

As the vampires closed in they saw the first couple people notice them and they broke into a fast charge, determined to close the gap before the enemy could react effectively. When the young man came out of the van none of them spared him much thought. Big mistake.

The gun sounded like a thousand hornets in their sensitive ears, and at over fifty feet the vampires were grimacing at the stench of cordite and powder assaulting their noses. Those that were still able that is.

The destruction was incredible, Seth watched as his entire team was ripped to shreds piece by piece and often limb from limb. Literally, as he found out when the first of several rounds took his legs out from under him, and deposited them twenty feet behind his position. Before he hit the ground a dozen more shells had impacted in his chest and head, effectively dusting the vampire.

*****

Xander let the barrels of the Masterson wind down as the last of the vampires assaulting form the rear were dusted. He slowly pivoted, sweeping the gun over the kill zone, looking for more targets. When none presented themselves he turned his head to Logan and Casey who were standing just behind him.

"I think that we're expected."

Logan grunted, pulling a cigar from his vest pocket and chomping it tightly in his teeth, "Let's not disappoint them then."

Casey just nodded, bringing his SEAL issue MP5-SD6 up and racking the bolt back, chambering the first round of a new magazine.

Xander nodded. "Alright then. Nightman, your on ariel recon. Everyone else... Saddle up, we're crashing a party."

*****

Logan eyed the kid behind the wheel, sniffing quietly at the smells that permeated the van. He could smell the cat that was currently hiding under the drivers seat, he could smell the gun oil, gunpowder, and other fundamental scents that came with the small armory the kid kept in his vehicle. But under it all he could smell the kid, a naggingly familiar smell that he couldn't place. Frustrated he flicked open his zippo lighter and brought it up to his cigar, lighting the Cuban and thoughtfully taking a deep puff.

As the smell of the cigar intermingled with the other scents around him Logan suddenly sat bolt upright in his chair, his head snapping around to stare at the kid as he drove. <No way.>

Natasha, who was sitting just behind him noticed Logan's sudden interest in Xander and leaned forward to whisper a question. "What is it?"

The Wolverine tore his attention from Xander to look at his wife, "It's the kid," he whispered coarsely, "I recognized his smell."

Natasha looked confused, "Of course you did, you met him when Steve called us in on that last mission."

Wolverine shook his head, "No, I mean, yes. But you see I couldn't place it before. I knew he smelled familiar but it never clicked, not until I lit a cigar."

The Black Widow stared at the smoldering cigar clenched in her husbands teeth, then over to the child driving them into battle. It took a moment but her mind locked onto the connection, "You smoke the same brand as Nick don't you?"

Logan nodded, <Damn I love that mind of hers.> "You see it don't you?"

"I saw it before my love. But it was just a coincidence, It can't be... Nick would know. Wouldn't he?"

Logan shrugged, "I don't know. I'll have to remember to ask him the next time I see him."

His wife nodded softly, her own eyes now glued to the young man behind the wheel.

*****

"They're coming this way."

The man sneered down at his vampiric lackey, "Of course they are. Where did you think they would go?"

The vampire blinked, uncertain what to make of the question, "I... I uh..."

The man turned away from the confused vampire in disgust, <These things don't even make decent thug material.> He hated working with vampires, normally he would have engaged humans to handle a job, but his employers didn't want to cover his usual expenses when they had deep connections with the local undead population.

Not bothering to hide his disgust the bounty hunter turned back to the black mage standing behind him, "Next time you people hire me for a job I'm tripling my fee. Working with these amateur bloodsuckers is too damn aggravating."

Turning back he addressed the vampires and other thugs he had gathered, "Remember, the target gets through. The rest, kill them, hold them back, take them out to dinner for all I care, but the target gets through."

*****

"Remember, this is a rescue mission. The body count is not our primary goal."

The group in the van nodded in agreement as Xander said a few last minute words over his shoulder, the opposition already coming into sight as they approached the quarry. The assault team quickly eyeballed their weapons one last time, flinching involuntarily as the first bullets began to impact along the front of the van's armored surface.

Xander twisted the wheel and tapped the brake, slewing the van sideways. Behind him Casey slid open the side door and triggered the firing mechanism on the Masterson he had aimed out the door. Xander had tried to prepare him for the effort of firing the big cannon, but even so the vibrations were rattling his teeth and sending vibrations through his muscles.

*****

The heavy twenty millimeter shells made short work of the first line of defense, dusting the front line guards with brutal effectiveness. Casey kept up the barrage, clearing the area so their forces could deploy effectively.

The gang piled out of their vehicles, assault weapons snapping to the ready instantly as they advanced into the quarry.

Johnny saw it first, his voice crackling over their headsets, "Guy's there is some kind of stone circle setup in the middle of the Quarry. There's a ton of vamps in the middle of it plus three warm bodies. One of them is female, looks like the picture Casey carries."

Xander acknowledged the signal, catching Casey's eyes as he did. "We'll get her out man. Count on it."

Casey just nodded, and angled the Masterson to blow away two more vamps who dared emerge from cover.

*****

Johnny watched from above as the battle was joined. He observed the battle as it progressed, calling out information to Xander and the others as he spotted the enemies movements.

As the assault team approached the center of the quarry they began dealing with vampiric ambushes rather then the all out attacks they had easily weathered before. Nightman floated above them, nearly silent, and called out the positions of any ambush he could spot.

Johnny didn't see the pattern until it was too late. He had been busy guiding the Shadowclan group through a particularly nasty ambush when he suddenly realized that Xander was passing through the entire field unmolested. When he turned his attention back to the kid he realized the mistake they had all made.

<The vampires were just supposed to slow the rest of us down!> Nightman dove toward his friend, trying to reach him in time, but was brought to a sudden and jarring stop when he ran straight into an invisible barrier between him and the kid.

*****

Phoebe screamed when she saw Nightman bounce off a magical field, spinning in the air as he rushed toward the ground. "Piper!"

Piper's hands flashed up in an instinctual move, freezing the falling hero in mid air. Phoebe rushed over, grabbing the frozen form and bracing herself.

"Prue! A little help!"

Prue nodded and got ready, "Ok Piper, let him go."

Piper flicked her hands, returning Nightman to his original flight plan. As Phoebe grunted under the weight Prue did her best to lessen the impact.

"Whoa! You're a heavy one!" Phoebe grinned as she and Nightman crumpled to the ground.

"Sorry, I guess I need to go on a diet..." Nightman joked back weakly.

"Oh, I don't know about that..." Phoebe managed to get out, "Now, not that this wouldn't be fun under other circumstances but could you get off me?"

Under his mask Johnny flushed red and immediately rolled clear of the beautiful young witch. "Sorry."

"S'ok."

*****

Xander was worried, he wasn't sure what was going on but he had a bad feeling about the way things had progressed. <It's been too easy.>

It wasn't until he stepped into the stone circle that he realized his mistake. Across the way he could see the man he remembered from the House of Soul's security camera's yelling an order to another man in dark robes, the result of which his enhanced senses could instantly feel.

<Oh shit.>

The magical barrier snapped into place, encircling the entire mass of standing stones, creating a mystical prison over one hundred yards in diameter. A prison that now held Xander, his hunter, and over fifty very pissed off vampires.

*****

Outside the standing stones the Wolverine and the Black Widow felt the buzz wash over them as they finished off their opponents. Both Immortals rushed toward the source, only to slam into an invisible barrier when they tried to cross the stones. Inside they could see Xander, standing alone as a mob of vampires surrounded him, facing down the source of the buzz with nothing more then a couple pistols and a sword strapped to his back.

"Kid!" Wolverine growled low in his throat, his claws fully extended as he charged the field slashing desperately at the magical field.

"It's no use Logan," Natasha laid a hand on his shoulder, "save your strength."

*****

Inside the standing stones Xander was looking around, barely able to conceal the fear that was welling up just beneath the surface. <I've really messed up in a big way this time.>

Xander watched the amassed vampires began to converge on his position and slowly tallied his assets. <Two Glocks, couple clips. Doubt I'd have been able to reload anyway though. Still got my sword, but these bastards will pull me down by numbers alone if nothing else. >

As the first wave came in at him Xander felt himself slip away, his thoughts fading until they were just echo's from a long way off. He saw the world as though in slow motion, his hands coming up with a big pistol in each fist, the first faraway pop as he gently squeezed the trigger. His mind didn't even register the puff of the vamp being dusted by the silver tip round, he just tracked onto a new target and again heard the far off pop.

*****

Outside the field the Battle had become extremely lopsided as the Shadowclan neatly finished off the vampires that had tried to catch them by surprise. Closer to the energy field Casey, the Widow, and the Wolverine had already eliminated the last defenders outside the Standing stones, only to be blocked again and again as they tried to breach the barrier.

From a long way off the group could hear the loud echoing boom of the Barrett sniper rifle and the sharper but quieter crack of the AWP-308 as the two snipers on the hill finished off the last of the, now scattered, vampires.

Feeling helpless the powerful group turned their attention to the drama unfolding on the other side of the mystical barrier.

*****

He watched the beginning of the fight, amused at the targets refusal to bend to the inevitable. The vampires who dared charge the kid were soon littering the ground with what few remains a vampire produces. The kid appeared to have fallen into a battle trance, not seeing or hearing anything outside of what appeared in his mental cross hairs. The man actually chuckled, now that the end was here he could relax and enjoy watching the bloodsuckers practically dust themselves uselessly. His laughs grew louder when the boy's pistols finally locked back on empty clips, first one then the other. Then the boy did something that shocked the mocking laugh from his throat.

*****

Xander's mind was on autopilot. Shift, Aim, Fire, Shift... and so forth. One shot per customer, two clips that had already been missing a few shots. His mind kept track though, after ten shots the first pistol was dry, the second followed on twelve. His mind shifted back into gear as his last shot was fired, and the vampires regrouped enough to advance on him.

He threw his hand out in front of him and, mustering all the command and force he could, yelled one word. "Stop!"

No one was more shocked then Xander when they actually obeyed. They halted in their tracks, look at each other stupidly for a moment before one of them took a step forward as asked, "Why?"

A stupid grin slowly spread across his face, <Shit. I can't believe they fell for that.>

Xander shrugged, "I needed a second to do this," he dropped his pistols and pulled Deathstalker from his back, his left hand drawing a wooden dagger from his belt. He then looked at the remaining vampires, far too many for him to hope to win against, and grinned. "Lets end this, shall we?"

*****

Shaking his head the man muttered under his breath, "God I hate vampires."

Stepping forward he put a stop to the vampires second rush, "Hold!"

Confused the lead vamp looked back at his employer, "What now?"

"You goddamn idiots. You could have taken him while he was unarmed, but no.... you had to go and let him draw his sword. Gods below! You really think I'm going to trust you idiots to take this boy and leave his head undamaged?"

He strode forward, drawing his own blade as he went, and slashed the lead vampire down. "The rest of you idiots back off, I'll complete the contract personally."

*****

Logan chuckled as the kid held his hand out in the universal gesture for stop and actually succeeded in halting the undead minions advancing on him. "Christ that took balls kid. Serious lack of brains... on both sides, but balls too. Nick is gonna love this."

Natasha gave him a dirty look, "We don't know if he's Nick's, Logan, and we need to get in there or else we may be telling Nick about his LATE son."

Logan's grinned faded fast, his wife's words hitting hard, as he growled. "Not much we can do but wait for the Wiccan threesome over there to do their thing.

Natasha looked in the direction of Logan's thumb where the Halliwell sisters were attempting to live up to their title by cracking the mystical barrier. So far they hadn't had much luck. But then neither had anyone else, from Casey, who opened up on the barrier with the borrowed Masterson, to Nightman who tried to fly over it, burn through it, and once even sneak past it invisibly.

So far none of it was doing much good.

Logan snarled as the source of the buzz he felt halted the vamps and advanced on the kid, "Kid! He's an Immortal! Kid!"

Natasha gently laid a restraining hand on his shoulder, "He can't hear you Logan. He can't."

The man called Wolverine wasn't used to feeling helpless, hell he wasn't used to feeling challenged anymore, but the weight of being forced to watch a battle he couldn't participate in was very nearly debilitating. On the other side of a mystical barrier were his enemies, his ally, and his daughter.

Sometimes the earth itself could create a scenario worse then any the Lord of Hell himself could ever hope to fabricate.

*****

"So you're the bastard who's been dogging me for the past two days huh?", Xander looked the man over for a long moment before sighing, "Frankly I'm disappointed. I was expecting someone taller."

The Immortal smirked, "So sorry kid, but you'll just have to settle I guess."

Xander nodded, and raised his sword into a salute, "Xander Harris, and you are?"

The man mirrored the salute before responding, "Miguel Terrance."

As one their blades slashed down into combat stances as they measured each other carefully. Xander moved first, a simple flat strike to his opponents chest at less then half speed, more to test the waters then actually attack. Miguel parried easily and slashed back with an inside lunge that Xander twisted away from easily. The two stepped back, and returned to their combat stances.

"Not bad child. Perhaps your worth the bounty on your head after all."

Xander cocked his head, "really? And how much AM I worth anyway?"

Miguel took the opportunity to slash in with an overhand feint, that turned to a spinning slash at the boy's legs when Xander parried. Xander gracefully hopped over the sweeping blade and planted his combat boot in Miguel's face, sending the man back several steps.

Miguel wiped a trickle of blood from his lips as he straightened up, "I'm getting one point five for your head boy. And I'm starting to enjoy the job."

"One point five?" Xander questioned, "As in million?"

When the man nodded Xander grinned, "Cool."

Miguel matched the boy's grin and moved in for another attack. <Enough testing the waters. The boy is good, but I'm better.>

*****

Outside the Barrier Logan and Natasha watched as the battled resumed, the Immortal taking charge of the fight despite Xander's superior speed and strength.

Natasha shook her head sadly, "He's going to lose isn't he?"

Logan nodded, a low growl reverberating from his throat, "Yeah. The kid is good, but he hasn't been training long enough yet. That bastard is moving like it's second nature, compared to that the kid is clumsy."

The two Immortal's looked at each other with a mixture of sadness and frustration before turning back to the battle. Behind them they could hear the witches attempting once more to dispel the barrier.

"Hold on kid. Hold on."

*****

Xander was sweating, his breath coming in quick gasps. The bastard was better then he was. <Without Robin's empowerment I'd be mincemeat already.>

Blood was trickling from a dozen minor wounds, he could feel his muscles stiffening as the bruises started to form from the multiple hits he had taken, and he knew that the fight was almost over. Shaking his head to clear the fog from his eyes Xander managed to pull himself back up into a defensive stance as he looked for an opening.

*your doing it wrong* a voice whispered in his head. Xander frowned, shaking his head again, his eyes looking around for the source. <Great, now I'm hallucinating.>

Miguel lunged again, forcing Xander to back away as he barely parried the perfectly timed attacks. "Give it up kid, I'll make it quick."

<Not likely you sick fucker.> Xander rolled clear of another strike. As he dodged another lightning fast attack Xander could feel a nagging sensation in his mind, like he was trying to grasp something that was just out of reach.

Another flashing exchange of blades earned Xander yet another bloody slice along his arm, another wound to which he hadn't managed to respond. <That's IT you son of a bitch! I'm gonna rip you a...> as a string of drill sergeant's curses flowed through his mind Xander suddenly locked onto what he was trying to remember.

As Terrance closed on him again Xander shifted his stance, and smiled a slow deliberate grin. When the sword came in he twisted under it, letting the razor sharp blade skim past his shoulder, and lashed out with a kick that smashed his opponents kneecap.

*****

Miguel grinned, he was enjoying himself. <The boy is just good enough to make this fun.>

"Time to finish this boy." Miguel said as he lunged in for a final attack.

He had committed himself to the attack when the boy's stance suddenly shifted, his entire manner changing in an instant. Miguel's sword flashed past the boy's twisting form and a lighting fast motion in the corner of his eye blurred under his guard.

A sudden blinding pain in his leg served notice that he had again underestimated his target.

*****

Outside the barrier field Logan and Natasha were joined by Nightman, the three of them looking on in frustration as the witches behind them attempted to breech the mystical field.

"How's the kid doing?"

Logan turned to look at the armored figure beside him for a brief moment before turning his attention back, "Not good, He's outclassed."

Johnny watched the fight for a moment, taking in the graceful moves both fighters were using and the lightning speed the fight was progressing at. <Shit. The kid's style is good, damn good. But that other joker is incredible.>

The three warriors watched, helpless, as the fight slowly went against their young friend. They could see the kid's opponent setting up what would likely be the final shot.

Three sets of eyes widened as Xander shifted his combat stance and countered the attack. It wasn't the fact that he had countered it that shocked them, it was how. As he took the offence in the fight they could see that Xander's entire fighting style had shifted. What had once been graceful was now brutal, and deception had become bluntness.

"How the hell?" Nightman looked on in confusion. <A fighting style is like a fingerprint, you can use different moves but you can't change your basic techniques.>

Beside him the two Immortals were looking on in surprise as Xander attacked with brutal kicks and jabs to the weak spots in his opponents defenses.

"Good lord," Natasha whispered, "He fights like a Spetsnaz."

"What?" Johnny looked over at her.

It was Logan who answered, "Spetsnaz bub. Soviet answer to the Green Berets, the kid is using a fighting style developed for special forces units."

"Oh." Was all Johnny could say.

*****

Xander allowed himself a tight grin as he drove home a short jab to Miguel's kidneys, <Soldier boy strikes again.>

It was strange, immersing himself in his Soldier memories and allowing them to guide his movements instead of just referring to them. But he could deal as long as it kept his head where it was supposed to be... attached. In fact, the only real problem he was having was that Soldier Boy didn't have a clue how to use a sword. Deathstalker was reduced to a machete as long as he was permitting the soldier memories to guide his actions.

*****

Miguel fell back in confusion, trying to give his leg time to heal as the boy suddenly pummeled him from a dozen different direction. <What the fuck?> He spit out blood from some of the internal injuries the kid had inflicted. <I'd be dead already if I weren't Immortal. It's like I'm fighting a new person.>

Miguel felt the tingle run through his leg as it healed and he shifted his stance, moving back to the offensive.

*****

<Why won't this bastard die??> The only answer that came to him was that he was dealing with a vampire or demon. Either way things just moved up a few notches.

Xander found himself defending again, barely able to block the sudden flurry of attacks directed at his chest and face. At the last moment he abandoned the Soldier memories and shifted back to his original style, desperately calling up his sword techniques to fend off the blade strikes.

Xander was pushed back again, step by step and inch by inch, until he felt his back touch one of the standing stones. He could feel the blade coming for his chest as he was stopped by the rock and barely got his sword into place to stop it. The shock of the impact ran through Deathstalker, numbing his arm and jarring the sword from his hand.

Unarmed Xander watched as the man grinned and struck once again. <Time for a new tactic.>

Xander dug a little deeper into his mind, unlocking memories he had tried to bury almost two years ago.

*****

Miguel grinned, he had the little punk. His sword lashed out at the boy's chest, only to strike sparks against the stone when the kid leapt over six feet straight up, arms outstretched like wings. The boy's face was feral, a low snarl sounding deep in his throat, as he seemed to float over Miguel's head. As he started to drop behind the Immortal, Xander lashed out with a heavy reverse kick that caught him in the back of the head and drove him face first into the rock.

<What in the name of Hades is this freak!?> Miguel pushed himself off the rock just as the kid spun around and dropped another set of kicks into the position Miguel had previously occupied.

*****

Xander pushed the attack harder and faster then he had ever tried before, losing himself in the hyena memories as much as he possibly could. He didn't have the hyena spirit in him anymore, nor any of the actual enhancements that came with it but between his empowerment and the memories of the possession he was able to manage a decent facsimile.

As his opponent rolled clear he sent a series of lightning fast kicks after the scrambling man, never giving him the chance to get his sword back into play.

*****

Outside the barrier the three observers watched in awe as Xander pushed the attack against an armed opponent and managed to keep the offensive.

Johnny Domino actually felt his jaw drop as he tried to grasp what he was watching. The kid seemed to have dropped any sense of strategy and gone berserk, using moves and attacks that should never have worked. But they did work.

Xander was moving faster then the eye could follow as he struck out with fists, feet, elbows, and anything else that seemed handy. His moves weren't calculated, they didn't seem to have any set pattern. He was operating on as pure a level of instinct as Johnny had ever seen.

"How...?" Johnny trailed off as Xander delivered a spinning elbow to his opponents chest, and followed up with a claw strike under the man's armpit. Johnny winced, he couldn't hear it but he was sure that bones broke.

Natasha just shook her head, "I've never seen anything like that before."

"I have." Logan didn't take his eyes away from the fight as he spoke, "Animal Possession affects a person like that."

"He's possessed?"

"No." Logan growled, "Animal possession is a full time deal. Besides, he's not fighting like them exactly... It's just a really good copy."

"How do you know so much about this?"

"I have some experience in the area," Logan growled cryptically.

Johnny just nodded, he didn't really understand but he didn't think that he'd get a much better explanation. He missed the quiet byplay between Natasha and her husband.

Natasha looked at the fight, then back to her husband, "Where would he learn to fight like that?"

Logan just growled again, "Kid lives on the Hellmouth sweets. I'd say he was possessed before."

"Why is he changing styles so often?" Johnny was trying to grasp the situation.

Logan smirked, "He can't take the guy one on one, so he's trying to confuse the issue. Every time he changes his style he has a few moments during which the other guy is trying to adjust to the new techniques. I've never seen anyone use that tactic quite as effectively before. And I've been around a long time."

*****

Xander snarled, losing himself in the role. His hands were hooked into claws as he kept the fight in close, striking hard into Miguel's face.

"What are you?" Miguel managed to gasp through the pain of a broken nose.

Xander smiled evilly, a look that was a fair bit more intimidating then his previous snarl, "A predator."

Miguel twisted away from the next barrage of strikes, and managed to break loose of the attack and gain some breathing room. Xander smiled savagely at him and pressed the attack again, lashing out with a heavy kick to the mans wrist that sent his sword flying into the air.

Xander whipped around with a fast elbow to the man's sternum, doubling him over. His eyes flashed upwards as the man's sword came back down and he reached out his hand, catching the heavy blade easily.

As soon as the pommel touched his hand Xander snapped out of the Hyena memories, bringing his vampire hunting instincts back to the surface. The sword instantly slashed down across his opponents neck in a clean swipe.

As the man's head hit the ground Xander looked at it in shock, <He didn't turn to dust. Why didn't he turn to dust?>

When the mist gathered and the electrical sparks began to play across the body Xander's mind caught up to the situation.

His heart dropped, his chest tightened and only two words came to his lips, "Oh Shit!"

Xander spun and ran, not towards the closest cover but instead towards where Tanya was tied up. A direction that took him through over thirty stunned vampires.

*****

The lead vampire didn't have a clue what he was dealing with. He had just witnessed a duel the likes of which he wouldn't have believed existed outside of the movies, and now the victor was charging directly into his group like a man possessed. <Or a man terrified.>

He was about to scream to the others to grab the man, figuring that maybe they could get the bounty, when the first lightning bolt reached out and dusted eight of his fellow vampires in an instant.

Any hint of organization vanished in a second as the vampires suddenly split and attempted to scatter.

*****

Xander ignored the vampires as they scattered, he didn't care if they lived or died at the moment, focusing instead on Tanya's position. Scrambling over the rocks he tried to keep low, preferably under the lightning bolts the Immortal's quickening was sending all over the area. He ran through the vamps as they tried to find cover, only altering his course when it seemed he could use a vamp as cover from the quickening that was erupting behind him.

Around him the lightning was annihilating vampire after vampire, leaving them literally as dust in the wind. Xander couldn't see it but the mist was gathering behind him, searching for another immortal to enter. It struck out at the energy field, trying to reach the two Immortals standing beyond but was repulsed by the shimmering barrier.

*****

Nightman flinched back from the shimmering light show, not noticing the look of apprehension on the faces of his two companions.

Natasha looked on, her face contorted in worry as the lightning discharged in and around her daughter and her friend. "My lord."

Logan growled continuously, a low sound that seemed to vibrate through the air with more energy then its volume would normally indicate. He watched as Xander placed himself between Tanya and the quickening behind him, quietly cursing. <Christ kid, do you know what your letting yourself in for?>

*****

The Quickening reached out its tendrils, seeking out any mystical being within range. The first it found were the vampires, who's demonic nature reacted poorly with the sudden influx of pure energy. As a vampire was touched by the power it was reduced to dust faster then by fire, wood, or sun.

Next the tendrils grabbed for the next source of mystical energy, trying to find a host. The Black Mage muttered a spell as quickly as inhumanly possible, erecting a slighter version of the barrier now surrounding the area. The barrier held back the blue bolts of energy, shuddering and weakening as it did.

Finally only one candidate remained. The energy within that one was deceptively small, but it was sufficient to draw the power of the Quickening to it. With a flash the energy burned across the ground and into the armored back of Xander Harris.

*****

Xander had reached Tanya's position, behind him only the drifting dust remained of the vampires that had been gathered there. He tackled Tanya's bound form to the ground just as his body arced under the impact of the Quickening's final burst of bottled energy. His body was on fire as the lightning burned through the grail armor and charged through his nervous system.

When the Quickening finally burned itself out Xander's still form lay across Tanya, not breathing.

*****

Logan stared at the motionless bodies of his daughter and his friend, his anger raging inside. His claws snapped out and he charged the field again, slashing at the field in frustration.

"Arrrghh!" Logan screamed as his claws were deflected off the field.

On his third slash his claws momentarily penetrated the field, digging deeper into the barrier then they had been able to before.

"Logan!" Natasha managed to snap out.

The Wolverine stopped in shock, looking at his claws as they were slowly forced back out of the barrier despite his straining muscles.

"That lightning show must have weakened the barrier!" Nightman yelled to the three witches behind them.

Phoebe looked at her sisters, "We'll try the power of three spell again."

The three witches looked at each other in agreement, and chanted out the spell they had used earlier. The magical energy again collided with the barrier, charging across the mystical field in a sparkling display of energy. This time the power of the three young witches was enough to disrupt the black magic holding the barrier in place. With a shattering sound, as if a thousand crystal glasses were falling, the field fell.

*****

Darren Tines, The Black Mage, looked up when he heard the crashing sound of the barrier being shattered, his eyes wide with fear. Nothing should have been able to shatter the barrier, nothing he had ever heard of could break through that spell within the time that it had been activated.

Nevertheless they were coming, The Nightman and a furious couple leading the charge. Not far behind was a man packing the biggest gun the Mage had ever had the distinct lack of pleasure to see. Others were moving in as well, three witches, a group of Ninja's, some others dressed in military fatigues. This job had just gone to hell faster then he thought possible.

Muttering to himself he quickly cast a spell, teleporting clear mere seconds ahead of the slashing claws and bared teeth of the Wolverine.

*****

"Damn it!" Logan cursed as the mage blinked out just ahead of his justice.

"We will track him down husband. For now we must see to our friend and our daughter."

Logan calmed down and they moved over to the two figures on the ground, gently rolling Xander clear of Tanya as they examined both.

Tanya was badly shaken up, but otherwise fine. Logan made short work of her bonds while the others examined Xander.

Piper looked at the motionless bodies and screamed out, "Leo!"

After the shimmer of white energy deposited Leo at the scene the whitelighter found himself disturbed by two things. First that he had appeared amidst a heavily armed group of strangers, and second that he was the only one remotely surprised at that turn of events. <Who the hell have my charges been hanging around with?>

"Yes Piper?" He managed to get out without stuttering.

Piper pointed to the young man laying on the ground, "Heal him."

Leo looked down in shock, the boy on the ground looked like he had been through a war. On the losing side. The Whitelighter kneeled down by the boy's side and looked him over. Shaking his head he leaned down and began CPR.

"Leo! What are you doing? Use you powers!" Phoebe looked ready to hit him.

Leo finished the respiration cycle and starting thumping on the boy's chest, "My powers only work if he's alive Phoebe!"

The group looked on in shock as the man tended to his patient with professional speed.

*****

Elsewhere, If you have to ask, your not ready to know
Time doesn't mean much here

Xander tried to open his eyes for fully five minutes before he made a startling discovery. They were open. The world around him was bathed in pure white light, he could see no colors, only distinctions in the brilliance of the light.

"Oh great," He sighed, "I'm dead."

The low chuckle took him by surprise, "No kid, that you ain't."

Xander spun around looking for the source of the voice until he finally made out a vaguely human shaped construct of light a short distance from him. Cautiously approaching the form he asked, "Who are you? What is this?"

"Just another guy kiddo. I was asked to check you out a couple years back so I guess you could say that this is a call back of sorts."

Xander blinked, or least he thought he did. Didn't really change much. "Huh?" He asked. <Oh that's bloody great. 'Huh'... I know my vocabulary isn't great but I could've done better then that.>

The only answer was the low chuckle that seemed to come from all around.

"Alright fine. If I'm not dead then where the hell am I?"

Xander somehow sensed the form wince, "Please don't use that word here. Some of the local's are a bit touchy about it."

"Huh?" Xander said. <Oh great. I'm not ever telling Wills about this... she'd never let me live it down after all the help she gave me in English class.>

"Sorry Kid, a lot of Angels and higher souls visit here. They don't much like that word."

"Angels? So I'm in Heaven?"

Again the low chuckle, "Nope. Believe you me kid, if you were in Heaven you'd know it. No, this is just a higher plane of consciousness then you usually work on."

"Huh.... I mean what?"

"Ever hear of Nirvana kid?"

"Isn't that a band?"

Xander could almost see the form sigh in frustration, and felt a warm sense of accomplishment. <Hey, if I can't have G-man around I may as well get my practice in where I can.>

"How about the Dreamtime? Shamballah?" the man asked in frustration, "For crying out loud kid, you hang with a pack of witches, mages, mystical beings, and god alone knows what else. You'd think that you'd be able to pick up some of the terms."

Sighing the man calmed down and continued, "Look kid, this is a mental plane of enlightenment. Most people spend their entire lives trying to reach it."

"Oh," Xander managed to get out, "How'd I get here?"

"Long story. Luckily since it will take your friends a minute or so Earth time to revive you, we have the time to get into it."

Xander could feel another 'huh' moment coming on, but the man continued before he could say it. "Time runs a bit different up here, or rather you run a bit different up here. Because it's just your pure mind without any physical systems to slow you down you can think and operate a few thousand times faster then on the earthly plane."

Xander nodded, he wasn't a hundred percent but he supposed that explanation made sense. <As much as anything G-man comes up with anyway.>

"Fine. Cool. So, explain away... How'd I get here to this place that ton's of people waste their lives trying to find?"

Another sigh came from the figure bather in white, "I never said they 'waste' their lives. I said that they spend their lives trying to get here."

Xander shrugged, "Same thing. I don't see anything special about this place."

"Don't piss me off boy."

Xander retreated a few steps, his hands up in front of hm in surrender. Something in the voice brooked no argument, "Sorry, sorry... I'm sure it's a very nice place. Very coolish."

The figure sighed, "Sorry. Look kid, you've achieved something here that took the Dalai Lama over thirty years to reach. So don't talk like it's nothing special."

"Fine. Fine. So how'd I do it anyway? Nearly get my ass killed?"

"Among other things. Some people come here as the result of near death experiences, but unlike you they remember nothing but the light when they get back."

Xander nodded, hoping that the guy could see that, "So what's different about me?"

"Several things in fact,"

The figure seemed to go into a lecture mode, something that Xander would normally tune out, but here he actually felt focused and interested. <What's up with that?>

"First," the man continued with a wry grin in his voice, "'You nearly got your ass killed.' That was enough to get you here. But before that your soul had been battered around so much that it has adapted to the stress the transition put on it."

"My... soul?" Xander asked weakly, "It's not... you know, damaged is it?"

"It was." the man answered truthfully, "What did you expect? You've been possessed twice, damn near died a half dozen times easy, and been the subject of numerous magical spells... the two heaviest of which being the empowerment you now carry and the Quickening your soul just absorbed."

Xander started to panic, after what happened to Angel he didn't like the idea of his soul being in any kind of jeopardy, "Wait a minute! The empowerment caused damage? I thought it was beneficial."

"There's always a trade off kid. Normally it would have been a very minor tear in your soul, something that would heal up pretty quick. But you've taken a lot of hits over the years so it nailed you harder then the others."

Xander looked over, his vision still jumping wildly. "What about the quickening? I couldn't absorb that could I?"

The form sighed, "normally... no. But with the empowerment you are a magical creature of sorts now kid. Don't worry too much about it, it'll be gone in a few hours... days at the outside. Your mind isn't geared up to handle it."

"So its not going to affect me?" Xander breathed a sigh of relief.

"I didn't say that kid. The memory boost your empowerment gives you lets you access the Quickening for so long as you have it. I recommend that you use that to dig out all the intel on your hunter when you get back."

"Wait a minute. Shaw absorbed this crap and she couldn't remember until Ares pulled that lame stunt!"

"Your friend is a half elf, a mystical being in its own right. That's why she could absorb the quickening, but without the memory boost that you enjoy from your empowerment she couldn't access anything."

"Oh. Why can't I remember any of it now?"

"That's my doing," the figure said, "Trust me kid, you don't want those memories messing with you in here. This is a realm of the mind, a place where dreams... and nightmares can come true. That bastard you nailed had some nightmares rattling around his skull that you do NOT want to meet in person."

"Ok." Xander said slowly, "Thanks I guess... How badly did this hurt my soul anyway?"

"Bad. The Quickening almost shredded your soul. You wouldn't have survived it if you hadn't made the jump here."

By this point Xander felt like he should be hyperventilating, but that would be difficult without air to breath in the first place. "What can I do?"

"Don't worry about it. Its healed."

"Huh?" Xander winced. <Damn. I'm back to that.>

"Look kid, why do you think people TRY to come here? This is a place of inner peace, balance, and healing. When you made the leap to this level all the damage to your soul was healed. The damage to your body, on the other hand, is going to take some time."

Xander grimaced, he could remember the pain of the fight and its aftermath quite clearly. "How bad is it?"

He had an impression of the figure shrugging, "Could be worse. The big problem is that your heart stopped and you stopped breathing, otherwise you would have begun healing very quickly as soon as you came here. Instead you're going to have to wait for your friends to finish up with CPR."

"My heart stopped!"

"Don't get upset kid, you'll be fine."

"My heart stopped. Great. Any other good news for me?"

"No that's about it. Well, except...."

Xander moaned. "Except what?"

"The other reason you're here."

Xander was losing patience, <Is being cryptic some kinda rule or something?>

The figure looked at the kid for a long moment, <Pretty impatient for someone around here... Guess that makes sense though, considering how he got here.>

"And that is?" Xander finally prompted.

"Well, usually all the hits you took would have killed you..." The man paused thoughtfully, "Or driven you insane. Probably the latter I suppose."

Xander looked sick.

"I said don't worry about it remember kid?" The form started earnestly, he didn't want to see what would happen if the kid *thought* he was sick up here, "Your fine now."

Xander nodded, "Ok. I'm fine, so *why* am I fine?"

"You're a First Soul kid."

Xander blinked... or thought that he blinked, "I'm a what?"

He heard another long sigh, "A First Soul. Look kid, Souls are basically divided into two categories. First Souls, and Old Souls. Old Souls are the larger category, they've kicked around the planet a few times usually. Reincarnation and what not."

"And the First Souls?"

"Newbies." The voice said simply.

Xander didn't like the sound of that. "Newbies?"

"Yep," The voice was altogether too cheerful, "You're a newbie to the universe kid. A babe in the woods. A rookie. A wet behind the ears..."

"Alright already! I get the picture." Xander shook his head and muttered, "Damn it. Robin and Cordy better not hear about this... They have enough ammo against me as it is."

The form grinned to himself before continuing, "Relax kid, it's not a bad thing. You're Soul is young enough to be resilient and flexible enough to survive the torture you put it through relatively intact. Actually people up here are pretty impressed with you. Well... some of them anyway."

"Huh?"

"You really love those one syllable questions don't ya kid?" the voice was laughing as it spoke, "First Soul's are expected to spend their first run on Earth learning what they like... It's sort of a test drive if you will. Its been... oh, almost twenty millennia since a First got as involved in the Army of Light as you have. You managed to piss off a lot of people up here you know... probably a bunch on the other side too..."

"Oh great."

The low chuckle echoed around him again, "Yeah, there are several Archangels that want your head on a platter. Probably just as many Demons and such as well. Hell kid, you made quite a name for yourself."

Xander pinched his nose, or what felt like his nose anyway. <hey, that feels good... So *that's* why G-man does that.>

"Excuse me?" he finally managed to rasp out.

The form seemed to grin, "Yeah, actually you made a few names for yourself... most of which even I won't repeat."

The look of pain on Xander's face actually drew a laugh from the form.

"I think the translation for the more polite one is something like 'That Fucking Wild Card.'"

Xander's eyes widened at the obscenity, "You're telling me that a bunch of Angel's are cursing me out??"

"Archangels," the man corrected automatically, "They are bit rougher around the edges then Angels... Have to be I suppose, being that they're sort of the warrior class up here. And I did have to clean it up some."

"Clean it up?" Xander actually started to stutter.

"What did you expect? The Angelic language has been around over twenty billion years... They have obscenities for sins man hasn't even invented yet."

"Great." Xander replied dryly, "Well, I've been called worse things then 'Wild Card' I guess..."

"You don't know the half of it," The form laughed until he saw the look on Xander's face, "Don't worry too much about it kid, that's just the way that Free will works."

"What?"

"Free will kid. Usually its just a speed bump in the overall plan... But in your case it was a damned mountain." the man patiently went on, "It was the codex prophecy kid. You weren't supposed to intervene on the Slayer's behalf."

"So? She's Immortal, she wasn't going to die."

"No, but that pool she drowned in was connected to an underground stream that would have drawn her body out to sea. She was supposed to wash up in the Philippines a couple weeks later just in time to meet her Teacher. The Slayer met the Wanderer almost seventy five years early... thanks to you."

Xander didn't understand, "So?"

The form sounded disgusted, "So you screwed up a war plan that took the brass twenty thousand years to formulate."

"Anyone ever told them that a plan doesn't survive first contact with the enemy?" Xander shot back in an attempt to deflect the subject.

The form refused to be deflected, "Kid, *you* weren't supposed to be the enemy."

"Oh... yeah." Xander fumbled, "Well there is that..."

The form seemed to grin again, "don't worry about it kid. You also screwed up the Darkness' counteroffensive. In fact they still haven't caught up. Why do you think you've had such an easy time of things so far? They have their own counterparts to The Slayer and The Wanderer... but you took 'em by surprise, it'll take time for them to get their people into place."

Xander shuddered at the thought of an evil counterpart to Steve and Buffy. thinking of them a thought struck him, "Hey, are Immortals included in the two definitions of Souls you gave me?"

"Yep. Old Souls definitely. Immortals are the reincarnations of great men and women from other times." The form chuckled softly, "You wouldn't believe who some of them were in their past lives."

"Why?" Xander was genuinely curious, a lot of his friends were Immortals now and the idea was fascinating.

"Take those two highlander pals of yours, the MacLeod's. They were brothers who were the driving force behind the first gathering of Scottish tribes to drive demons out of their homeland. Got themselves killed, but they got the job done."

"What about Steve and Buffy?" Xander was listening intently now.

"The Slayer is one of the oldest souls currently walking the earth. Her history goes back almost as far as that dude Withers. Steve is a bit younger on that scale, but he's been kicking around quite a while himself. Both of them made their choice during their mortal lives, that's why they're back as Immortals."

"They chose to be Immortal?" Xander shivered, Immortality wasn't actually high on his list of desirable states of being. Living forever while his friends died around him sucked big time. And even with Steve's intervention there were too many head hunters floating around, making the life of an Immortal a matter of kill or be killed.

"Not exactly. They chose to fight with the Army of Light. In doing so they sacrificed a portion of their free will for the greater good. Such is the price of heroism" This last comment was directed at Xander with a snide tone.

Xander blanched, "Your kidding right?"

"Only partly. No one forces you to fight, but once you've made that decision your one of us. Can you really say that you wouldn't do the same?"

Xander had to think, but in the end he realized that he couldn't walk away. "No. I'd make the same decision."

"I know, kid. I know."

*****

Scarlet nudged Tommy, "What about the potions he gave us?"

Tommy cursed his memory and fished the potion out of a pouch and handed it to Phoebe who was standing over Xander.

"What's this?"

"Xander called it a healing drought."

Phoebe shook her head, "Won't work. The magic in the potion has to be carried through his system. Until Leo gets him back we can't do anything."

Tommy nodded, his heart sinking as he watched Phoebe go back to where Xander was being treated by her friend.

"Is he breathing yet?"

Leo ignored Phoebe's question and forced another breath into the boy's lungs. He had almost given up when the boy drew in a painful breath, Leo smiled when he felt the boy's heart start a rhythmic thumping. "He's alive."

Leo moved his hands over his patients wounds and felt the power flow through him.

*****

The being cocked his head, "Your friends finally got your motor running kid."

Xander sighed in relief, "Thank god. That means I go now right?"

"Only when you want to kid. Normally you'd get hauled back by the scruff of yer neck, but like I said earlier, your special."

Xander almost say's that he's ready to return but a question suddenly strikes him, "Why? I mean you told me how, but why did that stuff change me?"

"You ever hear the expression, 'what does not kill us makes us stronger?'"

Xander nods, "Sure."

"Well kid, that's one of the two roads to every destination."

Xander could feel another 'huh' coming on but instead managed to ask, "Could you, like, clear that up just a bit."

The form sighed, "Look kid, anywhere you want to go in life there are always two roads. The long and safe one, that's the route most people take. And the shortcut."

"Shortcut?"

"Yep. You took the shortcut. The treacherous mountain pass, the rickety old bridge, the back alley through the bad part of town. Whatever. It's faster but you were lucky to survive it."

Xander shook his head, "Great. Just frigging lovely."

"Relax kid, you made it. You're here, and alive."

Xander looked at the form, disbelief and disgust painted across his face and form, "You've got to be kidding me. I haven't made it anywhere. I'm still alive you know, and that means that I have to deal with more of this crap."

"Well, look at it this way kid, You've reached a safe zone. The damage your soul has endured is gone now, you're ahead of the game again."

Xander nodded, accepting that, he could feel a light tugging pulling at him. He raised his head to look at the form, "Is that...?"

The figure nodded, "Yep. Go in that direction and you'll be back where you belong."

Xander looked at his companion, "Well, I'm going to go. Nice place to visit and all that... you know what I mean?"

He had the impression of a grin behind the light, "Yeah kid, I know what you mean."

As Xander moved off he thought of another question and turned back, "Can I come back?"

"Sure kid, any time you like... IF you're willing to work for it." The man's voice sounded amused, "Ask you friend Cherokee about it kid. Word going around is that he's only a few years from getting here himself, and he's taking the long road."

Xander nodded, <Figures that Steve would know... hey! Wait a second... Why did he call Steve, Cherokee?>

Xander spun around, looking for his companion, but there was nothing but light left. Shrugging he turned back and moved away again, muttering to himself. "Damn it all. I really have to learn how to do that!"

*****

After Xander had left the blinding light faded away from the man, slowly revealing him. Standing amidst the brilliant surroundings, his khaki green military fatigues looked oddly out of place, the man smiled as he stared at the retreating form of his charge. A low coughing growl snapped his attention to a form emerging from the light beside him.

"Why are you here?"

//He's my responsibility too. I came to make sure he wasn't surrendering to the light.//

The man grinned at the spirit beside him, "That kid? Surrender? Can't see it happening."

The spirit grinned back, //I know. But I worry. So you finally introduced yourself, did you?//

"No. Just gave him some of the information he needed to understand is all, that and another piece to the puzzle that Cherokee is putting together. I haven't decided if I want to stay with the kid full time."

The spirit looked curious, //Why not?//

"I want to test him personally, see how he works under stress. The time is coming for that too."

//Don't hurt him.//

"I wont."

The spirit turned to leave, //Good bye.//

The man looked after the retreating feline, "For now Patches, for now."

As the guardian spirit faded into the light the man stared after him for a long moment before turning his attention back to the path taken by the boy. Finally he whispered, "Yo Joe, kid." and faded back into the light himself.

*****

This time Xander's eyes opened on command, and he as his vision slowly swam into focus he saw the entire assault force staring down at him.

"He's going to be fine." Leo looked his patient over as he spoke, making sure that he'd healed all the wounds.

Xander's head dropped back down, his eyes clenched shut, as he was suddenly bombarded with memories. A thousand murders floated across his minds eye, followed by ten thousand atrocities as bad or worse. The memories flooded his mind, trying to force him out of his own skull, like an unrelenting wave of pressure behind his eyes.

The team looked down as their ally started shaking, his body convulsing as his hands reached out for something to anchor him.

"You said he was fine!"

Leo winced at the accusing tone from Phoebe, "He is! I don't know what's causing this but it's not physical!"

Xander's hand flashed out in a blur to where Logan knelt nearby, grabbing the Immortal's arm and pulling him close. When the kid's eyes snapped open and locked with his Logan could see the fear and confusion running through them.

"How?"

Logan blinked, he didn't understand the question. "How what, kid?"

"The Quickening. How do you stop it from taking over?" Xander managed to bite out slowly through the agony in his mind.

Logan blanched, his eyes seeking out his wife. <How the hell?> Shaking himself he focused on the question, looking back at Xander intently. "Focus on something important to *you* kid. Something that matters more then anything else."

Xander shut his eyes again, trying to block out the images of murder, rape, torture, and worse that were assaulting his mind. Slowly a single image began to drown the rest out. He could see her raven hair, hear her voice as she spoke to him, and finally he could feel her touch against his face.

"Cordy." Xander whispered as he found his anchor, slowly forcing the Immortal's memories back into the same hole he kept the Hyena safely secured in.

The group breathed a sigh of relief as their fallen comrade slowly relaxed, and finally opened his eyes again.

"Well. That's an experience I don't want to repeat anytime soon." He managed to say with a weak grin.

Casey helped him to his feet, steadying him when his legs went a little rubbery. "You gave us one helluva scare kid."

Xander just nodded as he looked over the battlefield, taking in the deep layer of dust that covered the rocky area. "So that's what a Quickening does to vampires."

Logan looked around himself, "Nice to know that if one of the bastards gets lucky enough to take me out, he's gonna be coming with me."

Xander nodded, "Along with any and all of his friends."

"Come on kid, let's go."

Xander pushed off from Casey and nodded, "Yeah. Nothing left here. But the job's not over yet guys."

Each of the people around him looked at each other in confusion, then followed Xander to the vehicles.

*****

Small Office Complex, San Francisco
28 December, 1998 - 02:48 PST

Darren Tines grabbed everything he could from the office space they had been using as their local base of operations. He still couldn't figure out exactly what had happened at the quarry, the whole setup had been perfect. He had spent months constructing the standing stones into the perfect magicians circle, taken even longer then that choosing the right place.

Tonight was the fourth time he had been contracted to cast a spell powerful enough to warrant using his personal power site, a contract that should have gone off without a hitch.

Instead he found himself grabbing for everything he could in a mad dash to get out of town before whoever it was that assaulted his circle came after him. Sometimes his life was incredibly unfair.

Darren was tossing cash into his travel bag when he heard a slight noise from outside. He moved to the door quietly and looked around, relieved to find that it was nothing but a small cat pawing at the door. He was turning back to the wall safe when a new noise distracted him. A noise that was much closer then the cat.

Snikt.

A sudden pressure in his chest cause him to look down, to the sight of three sharp metal blades sticking out of his chest. One in each lung, and the third cleaving straight through the center of his heart.

Snikt.

The blades slipped back out and Tines turned around slowly to see his attacker. The man stood there with an evil look on his face, teeth almost sharp enough to belong to a vampire bared in a snarling grin. As Tines legs buckled he tried to speak, but only a bloody froth came out. From the ground Tines stared up at his killer, not breaking eye contact until his world went black.

The last thing her heard was a low growl from above him and a harsh voice saying, "No one messes with my little girl, Bub."

Darren Tine died, his own blood drowning him even as it pooled around his body, with one word echoing through his mind.

<Fuck.>

*****

Xander was waiting in the van when Logan and Patches came back, the rest of the gang were positioned nearby except for Natasha and Casey who had taken Tanya to a local hospital to be checked out.

"Done?" Xander asked.

"Done."

Xander nodded and pulled out of the small lot, turning the van back toward the hospital they had dropped Tanya off at. He looked down at the small travel bag Logan had brought out with him. "What's that?"

Logan tossed the bag across the van to a spot by Xander's seat. "Blood money kid. Your blood."

Xander glanced down at the bag for a moment, "The bounty?"

"Yeah. Looks like the bastard was also an escrow agent. Welcome to the end of the 20th century."

Xander curled up his lips, "You keep it. Tanya was the one hurt by this."

Logan shook his head, "Nah. Tanya's gonna be fine, and I don't want it."

Xander shrugged, "Fine. Its just another million or so to give away. That Tarrence prick had a few hundred mil stashed all over the place. I figure I can pay the Order in advance for all the equipment I'm going to be 'borrowing' from them."

Logan looked at him with interest, "You really have his memories don't you?"

"For a while. I've been told that they'll fade in a few hours, maybe a few days at the outside."

"How?"

"Friend of mine, Robin, gave me an empowerment spell so I could keep up with my Amazon girlfriend. Includes a little memory mojo that seems to let me check this guy's memories out."

"Robin Goodfellow?" Logan asked quietly, as he thought back.

"Yeah, know him?" Xander was mildly curious, it was always fun to find out stuff that Robin wanted kept quiet.

"Heard of him. Bit erratic, even for an eternal. Quite the sadist when someone crosses him too from the stories." Logan grinned, "Always respected that in people."

Xander laughed. "He's a piece of work for sure."

Logan chuckled for a bit before speaking again, "This memory thing, it's like a photographic memory?"

Xander thought about it before answering, "Nah. From what I understand a photographic memory lets you recall everything that your exposed to... I can remember just about everything I experience, but book learning doesn't come back much easier then before."

Logan accepted that, thinking quietly for a long moment. "When you go after the rest, you call me. Understand, kid?"

Xander nodded, "Not a problem. I've got a couple names for Broots to track down, he's a hacker who works for us. He'll start tracking down the details I can remember, but I don't think it'll be easy. Terrance was just a hired gun... Sword... Whatever. The guy's who hired him wanted my skull intact so they could do some mojo on it to get details of Steve's defenses, contacts, allies. You name it, they wanted it."

Xander was silent for a long moment before he continued, "Scary thing is... If they had gotten it they could have done some major damage. They'd have known everything about Steve's home, the people we have based in Sunnydale, almost all of our contacts in the state... Damn. It could have been bloody, man."

Logan brushed the thought off, "Turned out fine, and now your warned kid. They have a similar contract on the rest of your people?"

Xander grinned slightly before speaking in a self depreciating tone, "Not yet. Whoever they are, they aren't crazy enough to put a contract on Steve or Buffy, and from the conversations Terrance had with his contact they are pretty scared of Artemis so they won't condone actions against her amazons at this point. They figured me for a soft target... I'm supposed to be the weak link in the chain."

Xander was surprised when Logan laughed, "They didn't do their homework did they kid?"

It was Logan's turn to be surprised when Xander responded, "Compared to most of the others I am the weak link man. Without Robin's empowerment the girls would still be trying to lock me up at home."

"Kid, how old was Terrance?"

"Uh... almost four hundred and fifty."

"And was that empowerment enough to take him down?"

Xander shook his head.

"No. It wasn't." Logan growled, "Look kid, I ain't any good at rah rah speeches, but you did good today. You faced an opponent who outclassed you in skill, and you managed to take him down by out thinking him. You ain't a weak link in any chain kid."

Xander just nodded, not really trusting himself to speak as he pulled the van into the hospital lot. Finally he found his voice again, "Let's go see how Tanya's doing."

*****

The gang was standing around the waiting area, drawing nervous looks from doctors, nurses, security guards, and pretty much everyone else in the area when Tanya was escorted out of the office by her mother.

"How are ya kiddo?"

Tanya smiled as Logan approached her, "I'm fine dad."

The gang held back, watching the reunion quietly. Xander glanced around at the smiles, and discrete whispers pass between the gathered friends and allies. <God I love having friends like this.>

*****

A half hour later Xander was standing with Casey, Tanya, Logan, and Natasha at Logan's home north of the city. He glanced around the large room with mild interest when Logan's voice distracted him.

"Kid, you planning on heading back tonight?"

Xander glanced at Logan, slightly surprised at the question. Checking his watch he mulled the question, "I don't know. It's almost four am now, but I'm still wired from earlier. It's strange really, I should be sore or something but I feel like I could take on an army single handedly if I had too."

"Got yourself juiced with a ton of magics tonight kid. Don't have to be a 'caster to figure that it would have some after effects."

Xander nodded, "Yeah, I guess that figures. Maybe I'll just head home." Xander turned to the door.

"Alexander..."

Xander turned, his eyes wide with surprise at hearing his full name spoken in the delicate Russian accent.

"Drive carefully."

Xander grinned, "Always."

The group laughed as he stepped out the door.

*****

Natasha watched Logan carefully after the door closed, she could tell that her husband was worrying about something.

"What is it darling?" She slipped her arm around his waist and guided him to the living room.

Logan allowed his wife to lead him into the next room, mulling over his thoughts as they walked. Finally he answered her. "I'm worried about the kid, hun."

Natasha's eyes narrowed, "Alexander? Why?"

"Remember when I told you some of my history?" Logan took a breath, "Almost two centuries ago, the battle to close the Devils Mound?"

Natasha nodded slowly, "Yes."

"How the Tribal Medicine Man offered me an edge in the fight?"

"The Wolverine spirit. You told me this, I realized that was how you recognized Xander's fighting style."

Logan shook his head, "But it's not the whole story love. After the battle, the Spirit was excised from my body and everything went back to normal. For a time."

When Natasha's mouth opened he waved a hand to silence the question on her lips.

"It was over two decades later when some of the urges and feelings from that battle started to reemerge. Animal possession is different from the demonic variety in a lot of ways, mostly because it doesn't go against the natural order." Wolverine took a breath and continued, "An animal spirit realigns the body and mind so that they are more in touch with the inner strength within us all. Demonic spirits draw their power from outside sources, whether it be blood magic like Vampires, or straight from hell itself like a Hell Spawn."

Natasha's eyebrows went up quickly, "Hell Spawn?"

Logan brushed the question off, "Doesn't matter. I'll tell you about them later. The point is that even when an Animal Spirit is forced out the changes they made are *internal* and remain in place. It just takes human's so long to relearn how to access the power that most never do."

Natasha nods, understanding a little more of what was being said, "But Alexander is different?"

"Yup." Logan growled, worried for his friend. "With the empowerment affecting his memories there's no telling when or how the changes could resurface."

"Is this a bad thing?"

Logan spoke gently, almost sadly when he answered, "Do you remember what I told you I was like in the mid 1800's?"

Natasha's eyes widened, her mouth dropping open even as her hand clapped across it. Finally she spoke, "Oh god."

Logan just nodded. "I think I'll keep an eye on the kid... And god help anyone who crosses him or his 'pack'."

*****

The Charmed Ones and their beleaguered Whitelighter pulled the police tape from the shattered remains of their front door and stepped into the manor.

"Hey, your back finally." Harvey Leek propped himself out of the chair in the living room and greeted the four people.

"Detective Leek," Prue looked at him oddly, "Why are you here?"

"Harvey," Leo smiled, "Sorry it took so long."

Phoebe and Piper turned on Leo and spoke in unison, "Harvey? You two know each other?"

Leo looked a little abashed, "Not really... We met tonight when he came by to handle the complaints from the neighbors, we got to talking... 'bout cars and stuff. He offered to stay and watch the house when you guys called me."

Piper and Prue looked at each other, "Cars and stuff?"

"Men."

Harvey just laughed, "Hey Leo man, you have got to tell me how you do that trick with the lights."

Leo smiled, "Sorry man, its sort of a employee benefit..."

"Great. I get a badge and gun, you get to pull a Captain Kirk." Harvey mock moaned, "There ain't no justice. Hey, did you guy's get Harris' friend back alright?"

"Oh yeah." Phoebe said with a grin.

"Kicked ass doing it too." Prue said proudly.

"Cool." Harvey said.

"Harris?" Leo asked with an odd expression.

"Yeah," Phoebe answered, "That's Xander's last name."

"Ummm... Xander? Is that short for anything?" He asked tentatively, as if he already knew the answer.

"Alexander... Why?"

Leo moaned as he collapsed onto the couch, "Man! I'm gonna take a terrible ribbing for this."

Piper looked at Leo in confusion, "What? Why?"

Leo looked up, surprised that he had spoken out loud. "Huh? Oh. Nothing, Piper. Just sort of an 'in' joke."

"You've heard of Xander?" Phoebe asked.

"Of course. Every one up there," Leo jerked his thumb upwards, "knows about the Wanderer and his group. What I *didn't* know was that you guys were hanging out with that nutcase."

"Nutcase?" The three sisters asked in unison while Harvey just grinned at the term.

"Yeah. If he's not chasing trouble, then trouble is chasing him..." Leo paused thoughtfully, "And judging from tonight the same goes for his people."

While the others were mulling over his words Leo continued, muttering. "Not that Harris wasn't able to get in enough trouble on his own."

Piper was the only one close enough to hear him, "What do you mean by that?"

Leo sighed, "Alexander Harris usually manages to find his way to the middle of any trouble near him... been like that since he was six years old. We had him pegged as Whitelighter material when he was eight, he had a penchant for saving other kids from bullies by taking most of the punishment himself."

"Xander!?" Phoebe looked shocked, "Isn't he a bit... rough?"

Leo nodded, "Well yes, but that's a new side of his personality actually. The Wanderer and The Slayer brought that out, He's still on the lists as a possible though, despite the fact that he's not a pacifist."

"Why's that?" Prue asked.

Leo shrugged, "We need a Whitelighter on the Hellmouth, but if we send one who can't protect himself his charges will have to spend more time saving him then fighting evil."

Piper smirked, "That *would* put a damper on their lives."

Leo nodded. "Yep."

Then a moment later he did a double take, "Hey!"

After the group finished laughing Leo continued thoughtfully, "Actually most of that group has a dozen or more of 'our' organizations standing in line to recruit them. Two of them were pegged to become Guardian Angels, at least until one became an Amazon... Doubtful that Artemis will let one of her new Amazons take on that kind of job instead of guarding Olympus."

"Special group huh?" Phoebe asked.

Leo shook his head, "You have no idea. Anyone of them alone is a formidable force. As a team they may prove to be unstoppable."

"Good thing they're on our side then, huh?" Phoebe answered cheerfully.

Leo didn't answer, after looking around the room he didn't feel the need.

*****

Sunnydale, CA
28 December, 1998 - 07:56 PST

Dawn's first rays were just showing themselves over the hills when Xander pulled the van carefully into Steve's driveway. <Looks like a nice day. Wonder how things have been on the Hellmouth?>

//Probably a lot better with *you* gone.// Patches said snidely.

"Wise ass."

//You know it.// Proud as always, Patches suddenly cocked his head and looked at Xander. //You really giving all that money away? It would buy a lot of cat food.//

Xander glanced down, and grinned. "I don't think so kitty cat. I'll keep some, repair the van, replace any lost or damaged equipment. Maybe pick up a car of my own so Steve won't be able to curse me out next time this shit happens."

Patches grinned. //He's gonna be pissed won't he?//

Xander shrugged, then grinned himself. "A little miffed I'm sure. What do you think, can you see us in a Dodge Viper?"

//Yeah!// Patches head shot up, his face covered in glee. Then the small cat seemed to calm down and think about something, //But... where would you keep your guns?//

Xander looked thoughtful, "You know... I forgot about that. Ah well, it was a nice thought. Something will turn up though, maybe I can commission a special like Steve's."

//You forgot about that.// the cat projected in mock disgust, //And you have the nerve to say that I'm 'as smart as you are' and not consider it an insult!//

"Hey!" Xander said, in mock anger, trying to keep form laughing. "No more of that ok. That subject is closed."

//Wimp.// Patches said smugly.

Xander saw Steve's house ahead as he turned a corner, and took the opportunity to change the subject "We're home kitty cat."

//Cool.//

After carefully backing the van into the garage Xander rapidly packed up his hear and started shifting it back down into the armory. He never noticed the pair of eyes that watched him from a corner.

//Patches, why is Xander unloading the Masterson from the van? I know he didn't take it with him.//

Patches sneezed as he laughed, trying to grab his breath to reply, //You know how much trouble the kids get into around here?//

Duke nodded, //Sure, it's a Hellmouth though... what can you expect?//

Patches doubled over in laughter, twisting on his back for several seconds before replying. //Xander doesn't need pitiful excuses like that. You wouldn't believe the trouble that he can get into on his own!//

//Spill.// The command was clear.

Patches, after catching his breath, proceeded to fill Duke in on the past two day's.

*****

When he was done Xander grabbed the laptop out of the van an settled into the couch in Steve's living room. He figured he could finish up what he had to do before anyone woke up.

His hands actually flew over the keyboard as he let the Immortal's memories guide him, accessing several off shore accounts and shifting them to new numbered accounts in various banks around the planet. By the time he had finished shifting the money he had actually spent over a million in transaction fees but he didn't really think he had to worry about that.

<I'm gonna miss these skills when they fade.>

Closing down the system he picked up his cell phone and stepped outside, avoiding the security cameras plastered around the place. He quickly dialed and waited for the line to be answered.

"First Cayman Bank, how may I help you?"

"Hello, I'd like to arrange a debit card on my account. Account number 440897995."

A quick tapping on the keyboard followed before the female voice came back, "Your PIN number please?"

"Four Oh Nine Three Three Hector Bravo."

"40933HB, confirmed sir. What address?" Xander gave her Steve's address, he knew he could trust people here not to open his mail, he wasn't so sure about his parents. "Very good Sir. We'll ship it out immediately, you should have it by tomorrow afternoon. One last thing, would you like a limit on the card?"

Xander thought about it briefly before answering, "No."

*****

Xander crashed on Steve's couch when he finished, just shutting his eyes and relaxing rather then actually going to sleep. He never even noticed the time pass until a squeal and a heavy weight hit his chest a couple hours later.

"Xander!"

"Hey Cordy," Xander grinned, wrapping his arms around his girl, "How was the family time?"

Cordelia groaned, "Don't even. Mother 'dearest' spent the entire time trying to fix me up with some rich brat." Xander raised his eyebrows, "Oh Really?"

"The way she was going on you'd think we were broke or something." Cordy winced, then brightened, "Just tell me about your trip, Steve told me you had some vampire problems?"

Xander shrugged, "Nah, just a couple normal patrols with some old friends and some new ones. No big."

Cordelia relaxed, "Good. You had me scared, Xander."

Xander pulled Cordy close and smiled as she relaxed. When her eyes closed he let a gentle frown cross his features, as he thought about what she had just said. <Maybe I'll hang on to more of that cash then I planned...>

As the two teens held each other on the couch, Duke stared from Patches to Xander and back in shock. //Normal patrols? No big?// Duke said in disbelief.

Patches just laughed, //I told you.// *

They stayed that way for almost twenty minutes before the first trickle of people started down the stairs.

"Christ. What are you two doing here this early?" Steve looked at the happy couple with some amusement.

"Sorry to let myself in unannounced Steve, just got back early this morning and didn't feel like dealing with the folks right away."

Steve brushed off Xander's apology, "No problem. How did things go yesterday? Did.."

Xander cut him off, "No problems, but I did have one run in I wanted to talk to you about. Got a few minutes?"

Steve looked at him strangely, "Sure."

Xander extricated himself from Cordelia, apologizing, "I'll be right back Cordy, Just need to talk to Steve about some car stuff."

Cordy rolled her eyes, "Guys." and headed for the Kitchen, where Buffy had already started to grab breakfast.

Steve raised an eyebrow, but followed Xander to the garage.

*****

"What the hell happened to my Van!?"

Xander was glad that he'd managed to close the door to the house before Steve saw the damage, otherwise that shout would have brought the whole house down on them. "Ran into some vamps that knew what century they were in."

Steve looked over the damage, running his hands through his hair. The driver's side of the vehicle was pockmarked with dozens of bullet impacts from front to back and the front grill had been shattered from numerous hits, to the point where Steve was surprised that the van still ran.

"This was caused by the guys you thought were hunting you?"

"They *were* hunting me Steve." Xander said firmly, "You remember a Black Mage by the name of Tautha Majori?"

Steve groaned, "That bastard is still alive? He's got more lives then a damned cat! I thought I got him in Prague."

"You did." Xander twisted his face in disgust, "He's rather vocal about how even Hell itself couldn't hold him, I suggest we contact Zeke when we find this bastard."

Steve nodded, if Majori was one of the escapees then Ezekial Stone deserved to be in on the hunt.

Xander continued, "This Mage has a major hate for you man. He signed on as part of a group that's trying to get the Darkness organized against us. He had a contract put on my head, literally, so he could use what I know against you."

Steve winced, "Xander... I'm sorry. I didn't know..."

Xander waved off the apology, "Not a problem man. Look, I jumped into this feet first with my eyes open, k? If it weren't for the impact this could have on us in the future I wouldn't have bothered to tell you about it."

Steve looked at him as if he'd grown another head, "What? Why?"

"It was my problem." Xander said with a dismissive gesture, "I handled it."

"How?" Steve was worried about Xander's flippant attitude.

"The headhunter they sent after me was an Immortal named Miguel Terrance." Xander winced at the memories the name evoked, "He wasn't a nice guy."

Steve looked at Xander in interest. He'd heard about Terrance, the Immortal was a gun for hire that had started working for the Darkness over three hundred years earlier. The Order kept a thick file on the man. "Wasn't?"

Xander grinned mirthlessly, "He's going to have enough trouble hunting his own head, I don't think he'll have time for hunting anyone else's."

"You took down Terrance?" Steve asked, surprised. "He was supposed to be a damn good swordsman."

"He was." Xander smiled slyly, "Care to test him out?"

Steve's eyes widened as he realized the implications. "How?"

"I'll tell you on the way to the Gym."

*****

Steve and Xander tested the weight of their practice swords, swinging them in easy arcs as they accustomed themselves to the feel.

"Let me get this straight," Steve began, "Your empowerment lets you absorb *and* use a Quickening?"

Xander nodded, "But only for a limited time. Fact is I'm kind of itching to see how much this affects my fighting skill."

Steve nodded, he could understand that. "Seems weird Xander, but lets have a go."

*****

Ten minutes later both men were sweating from their exertions. Steve looked at Xander with a wry grin on his face, "I'm sorry that the memories have to fade Xander, your damn good."

"Your still better though," Then Xander's face twisted, "Anyway, I'm not sorry. I'll be glad to get rid of the freak show crap this guy's life equaled. He's basically committed every crime I can possibly think of, and quite a few I hadn't considered before. I'm starting to understand why Deadboy was so damn broody all the time."

Steve nodded, "I've got a few memories like that myself Xander. I'm just a little surprised your not disappointed about losing the skill boost."

"Oh, don't get me wrong." Xander shrugged, "I'd love to keep the skills. This guy knew some stuff that is really cool. The trouble is that this freak also raped and pillaged his way across half of Europe. Hell, he could give Angelus a run for his money except for one thing... He always did it for money, Angelus was sick enough to do it for fun. But what the hey, I guess everyone needs a hobby right?"

Steve noted the sarcastic swing of Xander's voice and decided that it was probably better that the memories fade. Xander didn't seem to be holding up well under the pressure of another man's life. <On the other hand, how the hell do I judge? It's pretty much uncharted territory. He could be holding up remarkably well for all I know.>

Xander shuddered for a moment before flashing Steve a quick grin, "I know, I know. Your worried I'm gonna flip out and head for New York right?"

Steve had to smile himself, "The thought had crossed my mind."

"I knew it." Xander frowned, "Damn. I wish I had put some money on it."

Steve laughed, "Ok. You're still Xander."

"Damn right I am. Just a little more mixed up then usual for the next few hours or so. Say," Xander continued thoughtfully, "Maybe I'll call Joe... He might be interested to know about this guy..."

Steve nodded, "That sounds like a good idea."

As the two were leaving the gym Xander glanced over at Steve, "Do me a favor?"

Steve nodded.

"Don't tell the others. They worry too damn much, and its not like they can do anything about it now anyway."

Steve thought about it, <I wonder, if he doesn't want me to tell them about this... what is he not telling me about?> "Alright Xander. But you know that they're going to find out sooner or later anyway."

Xander nodded, "I know, but I can use the peace for as long as it lasts."

As they walked out of the gym Xander turned to Steve and asked, "Hey man, have you ever heard of some place called Nirvana?"

Steve raised an eyebrow, "Sure, It's an existential plane of enlightenment... Supposed to promote healing of the body and soul, as well as a few other things. why?"

"A friend of mine told me you could show me how to get there..."

"It takes years of meditation Xander."

Xander moaned, "Great. Meditation. Should have figured on that. Still, think you could show me the basics?"

Steve nodded slowly, of all the requests he may have expected from Xander this wasn't high on the list.

"Yeah, I guess so."

"Cool. Thanks" Xander replied. <Now I just have to find time to get Tommy to show me how he does that stealth trick.>

"No problem... I guess."

*****

Joe Dawson set his guitar down and grabbed the phone on the third ring, "Dawson."

"Joe, It's Steve. What do you know about an Immortal by the name of Miguel Terrance?"

Joe frowned into the receiver, he recognized the name. Terrance was one of the Watcher's larger pains in the ass. "Only second hand info Steve. Never been able to keep a watcher on him, they tend to vanish. We gave up almost a century ago. Still get reports whenever he crosses paths with Immortals we do have someone on."

"Not surprising Joe. He's been working as a hitter for Black Mages, Demons, and god knows what else for over three centuries."

"Well shit." Joe cursed, "That explains it I guess. He coming after you?"

Steve chuckled into the line, "He's not coming after anyone anymore Joe."

"You took him down? Joe asked, "Good riddance. Do you have any idea how many heads he's taken over the years? That shit liked to take on new Immortals just after they finished their training, used to tell them that they were just good enough to be 'fun'."

"He's down yeah, but it wasn't me. An old enemy of mine hired him to take out Xander."

There was a long silence over the phone.

"Are you telling me that the seventeen year old *mortal* kid who works with you took down Tarrence?" Joe's voice was full of disbelief.

"That's right." Steve took a breath, "And that's not all. He absorbed the Quickening, Joe. He even remembers it."

Another long silence.

"How's that possible Steve?" Joe's voice was subdued now.

"Xander tells me that it has to do with the magic Robin laid on him, but don't ask me anymore then that cause I don't know. Xander tell's me that he's been told it's going to fade real fast and he wanted to know if you were interested in some history?"

"Hell yes! Put him on!" Joe ordered instantly. He grabbed a tape recorder and attached it to the phone line.

"Joe?" Xander had picked up the line.

"Yeah kid, I hear you had quite a weekend."

"You could say that," Xander chuckled into the phone, "so anyway, you want to know anything in particular or you want me to wing it?"

Joe chuckled right back and started firing questions into the phone, bringing up Tarrence's file on his computer, in an attempt to clear up some of the mysteries surrounding a particularly troublesome Immortal. Xander, for his part, answered the questions as best he could, adding whatever details he thought the Society would be interested in.

*****

"Steve, where's Xander?" Cordy came out of the kitchen, looking around.

Steve looked up, "He's on the phone, He'll be out in a bit."

"Oh." She looked disappointed, "Ok."

*****

It was over an hour before Xander managed to break away from Joe and his questions and, somewhat to Xander's chagrin, it wasn't because Joe ran out of questions but because Xander was starting to run out of answers. The details of Terrance's life were already fading, leaving only the mass of emotional turmoil that Xander had been fighting against from the start.

Interestingly enough he could still feel the presence of the combat skills, and other ingrained memories that Terrance had gained over the years. Skills he practiced so much that they became second nature. Xander briefly wondered how long they would hang on, but decided that it didn't matter much. A few more hours, a couple days... Wouldn't make any difference in the long run, they'd soon fade as well.

In the living room the whole gang was settled in talking about their post-Christmas activities.

"Xander, over here."

Xander smiled and slipped back down onto the couch beside Cordy, "Hey Cordy, so what are we doing today?"

The End

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